Before watching Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait, which was screened as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I had a the absolute pleasure of attending a Q&A session with the director titled “In Person: Stanley Tucci”. Tucci talked about his incredible body of work and how his directorial style is very simple and intimate. Interestingly, he also spoke about the admiration he garnered for Michael Bay while working alongside him on the new Transformers movie, and how part of the thrill of being involved in such a film is watching how someone like Bay works. Tucci was quick to highlight how little his own style compares to Bay’s while also recognising that it was that same dissonance (along with the substantial paycheck!) that drew him towards working with Bay.
Later, when I sat down to watch Final Portrait, these comments rang loud throughout my viewing. Tucci favours slow, almost wandering shots to build his stories, unlike Bay’s frenetic visual chaos with cuts every couple of seconds. That said, because I sat in the second row of the stalls at the Festival Theatre, the screen literally filling my field of view, some of the early bobbing camera work gave me a little nausea – so at least that aspect was like watching a Michael Bay film!
Final Portrait stars Geoffery Rush as Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, who invites the American art critic James Lord (Armie Hammer) to sit for a portrait while he is in Paris. The portrait is scheduled to take a day or two but soon Giacometti is asking for another day, followed by another couple of days… Each day brings a new set of frustrations as Lord watches Giacometti smoke and drink himself stupid, cheat on his wife with a younger woman, and generally be as obnoxiously unpleasant as only Rush can do.
Instead of a typical biography film that whizzes through an obvious selection of highlights, it chooses to explore a single infamous story of the artist’s career – much in the same way as Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs focuses on three key Apple events.
Even though the film is based on a true story, it’s still strange to see such an obvious character laid out before us. Giacometti is the living breathing tortured artist stereotype even though his “pain” is mostly his own making. As an audience we side with Hammer’s character Lord; we sit with him, watching him grow increasingly frustrated as the painting takes longer and longer. We study Lord’s face in intense detail and watch as the artist recreates it. Each time Giacometti does something he doesn’t like he shouts and swears and gives up. Days fly by, and what was supposed to be a two day portrait is now several weeks in the making. Increasingly the hilarity of the angry swearing fades and instead irritation and anger start to bubble. We start to learn his habits – each time he starts to mix his gray paint we know he’s about to wipe the canvas blank and start all over again. Oh my god, we think. Just finish the damn thing!