‘You’re my husband’s next victim’
It’s funny how film scheduling works – about two weeks after the release of ‘Maudie’ (click here for my review) we have been gifted another art-related biopic from the gods of cinema. This time around we have a film set around a sitting of a portrait, something of a miniature as opposed to the sweeping landscape of a life that is Maudie.
It’s 1964 and American writer James Lord (Hammer) is coming to the end of a residency in Paris. During his time there he became friends with artist Alberto Giacometti (Rush) to the extent that Giacometti has offered to paint Lord’s portrait before he leaves. Having been promised that it was only take ‘2-3 hours’ Lord readily agrees – not quite realising the extent of his friend’s perfectionist temperament. The hours become days, and weeks, with the two shut away in Giacometti’s studio – or at least they would be if the artist didn’t allow his self-doubt to lead to want of distraction.
The end result is an extremely charming movie and one which, after hearing it’s director Stanley Tucci speak, manages to reflect his personality. It’s witty, warm and whimsical with a side of bite. A character-led piece that manages to mediate upon topics such as death, life, the nature of art, obsession and legacy in a manner that feels wholly naturalistic. This is down to the superb performances by both leads who create characters that feel fully sketched out and layered with depth & colour. Rush’s performance is the more obvious one, the maverick artist riddled with quirks and eccentricities, almost like the friend you feel like you need to apologize for when you introduce them to other people. You get the sense that he’s a pain to be around but you cannot begrudge him of anything as he’s so damn likeable.
Hammer’s performance has more nuance, less flair than Rush’s but just as worthy of merit. His increasing exasperation throughout his prolonged stay is so well portrayed, and oh-so hilarious, told at first with his facial expressions before he can bring himself to verbally articulate it. It’s rolling of the eyes, the biting of tongue, the straightening of shoulders – micro expressions that reveal his frustrations. There’s a rather lovely moment when he briefly ignores Giacometti’s instructions so he can continue a conversation with Annette (Testud), Giacometti’s partner, about the dress she is planning to wear to an upcoming gala. It’s a tenderly sweet moment, reflective really of the film overall.
That seems to be the Tucci effect, putting together brief strokes of a life, snapshots that provide the truest reflection of how people are. His attention to detail is deserving of much plaudit, be that the mise-en-scene, the moments where dialogue is absent, the pore-lific way the camera examines Hammer’s face – showing it not through the camera, but the eye of an artist. The end result is a film that is rich and wry, attractive to look at and stays with you once the curtains have closed.