Directed by Stanley Tucci
This fine-looking and delicate chamber piece (literally – it’s mostly shot in the confines of a studio) tells of an encounter between artist and critic, Europe and America, old and young, when in early-60s Paris the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti embarked upon a portrait of his great admirer James Lord, a young American art critic. But it’s the great artist himself that the film soon becomes a portrait of. An affectionate study of a difficult man. Geoffrey Rush makes a fine Giacometti, his huge head and billowing features as compulsively hawk-like as so many of his creations. In contrast Armie Hammer’s open and classically handsome face, so apparently difficult to capture the essence of, is that of the innocent American beloved of so many stories of the hapless New World visitor bamboozled by wily Europe. Lord’s composed manner and neat suit-and-tie look are wildly at odds with the world of the artist he admires. Each time Lord enters the studio by its peeling blue door, which becomes almost a character in its own right, he steps into a different world, half magic, half frustratingly bereft of logic, where with his politeness and deference to the great artist he’s powerless.
The portrait just never gets finished, Giacometti perpetually crying an exasperated ‘FUCK!’ and painting out the work to start again. The imperfectability of art? The impossibility of capturing another person’s essence? Or, more likely, a power play as Giacometti tries to hold on to his sitter and prolong the project, hanging on to the affable relationship and pleasure of an admiring young person’s company? Lord becomes increasingly frustrated at not being able to get away back to his own life, and their relationship begins to take on aspects (though always good-naturedly), of a duel.
Though the dusty studio is the central point round which the drily amusing action pivots, there are other distractions: Alberto’s sensible brother Diego, a quietly brilliant performance by Tucci’s old co-actor from Big Night Tony Shalhoub; the women in Giacometti’s life, his chirpy faithful mistress and model Annette, (Sophie Testud) and ditzy Caroline (Clémence Poésy, whose seductively irregular teeth, by the way, show the utter folly of the current craze for dental perfection), who brings in a whiff of the dangerous Parisian underworld outside the blue door. And then there’s the heady look of the thing. Keeping a blue-grey palette throughout, Tucci has a real eye for the beauty of the worn and the down-at-heel, as well as pulling out some bravado shots of the frustrated Lord liberating himself into the liquid blue of the swimming pool, which at one point morphs into the gorgeous new ceiling of the Opéra. At 90 minutes it’s a perfect length for this snapshot of an episode of when two very different lives came together and nothing much happened, full of warmth and humour and the oddness and complexity of the creative process.
Seen at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, August 2017