Things are often not going well when Giacometti sits at the easel; perversely, this means they’re going very well. As Giacometti’s brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub) explains to writer James Lord (Armie Hammer), Alberto thrives off discomfort – the intention is not to be completely unhappy but perfectly unhappy. Lord nods but doesn’t sympathise. By this point, he’s been sitting for Giacometti’s titular portrait for much longer than expected, and his bum is getting sore. He’d settle for comfort.
When he gets Lord to postpone his flight for the second time, it’s clear that precise time-keeping means even less to the Swiss artist than banks do: ‘I’m Swiss-Italian,’ he protests when Lord argues that it’s a betrayal of his nationality to keep money stashed around his studio in grubby paper bags. He’s even less bourgeois in his romantic life. Forced to stick around for weeks waiting for the ordeal to be over, Lord witnesses Giacometti’s tempestuous and tender relationship to wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) and his romance with prostitute Caroline (Clémence Poésy).
The film itself is comparatively mild, although it never has the stale, stiffish air of over-reverent biopics. It could be said that Stanley Tucci’s film is more interested in eccentricity than genius, but the conversations between Giacometti and Lord are intriguing, and they’re believably acted by Rush and Hammer.
Hammer again pulls off his affable trick of making a handsome, tall, baritone-voiced alpha-intellectual seem like a bit of an underdog. Rush certainly sounds the part, as mentioned, and he looks it too: when he stands face-to-face with a plaster Giacometti sculpture, Tucci’s camera lingers long enough to allow us to notice how the crags and creases are mirrored.
His actual performance is inextricably tied up with the script’s depiction of Giacometti’s self-presentation. At one point Lord calls the painter ‘a ham’, and Rush’s performance of Giacometti as a lugubrious and ribald genius – perennially smoking, whoring, and complaining – is also a performance of Giacometti’s OTT performance of same. Rush navigates the difference with ease: whenever you’re aware that you’re watching a sly old ham, that ham is Giacometti rather than Rush. Tucci’s light-hearted and amiable movie succeeds as a result.
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
18 Aug 17 – 18 Oct 17, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|