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Final Portrait

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Final Portrait

Final Portrait is one slice of the life of renowned artist Alberto Giacometti. It is a compelling look at the inner life of a man possessed a study not of his art but of the man himself that lingers long after we leave the theater.

James Lord (Armie Hammer) is the American author who will write a book about the few days he spent with Giacometti (Geoffry Rush) at the end of his own trip to Paris. When he arrives at the painter’s studio, Lord announces he has a short time before his flight home to America and wanted to say goodbye. Giacometti announces that he wants to paint his friend’s portrait, an undertaking he promises will take only a few hours.

The hours turn into two weeks for Lord who calls home frequently to report his delay. During the prolonged and frustrating work sessions, we absorb the details of Giacometti’s studio, his unfinished paintings, his personality, and the possible truth that everything about Giacometti is unfinished. Is that the cause of his deep frustration?

The studio is in an unassuming, quite rundown part of the city, no fancy address for this famous man. As we are brought inside, we see a large room cluttered with the tools of his trade. Scattered on tables and counters, unfinished sculptures and paintings wait for his hand. Or are they finished? That’s the thought that comes to mind as we watch the painful passage of time as Giacometti paints his portrait of James Lord. He starts, covers his beginning with a light gray paint – it’s not right – and starts again. It’s the primary message of the film – Does this brilliant artist ever know exactly what he wants to produce and is he ever satisfied?

As we follow Giacometti’s tortured process of creating a painting or a sculpture, we realize he is surrounded by unfinished work. Director Stanley Tucci wisely assumes that he can’t read the artist’s mind. He just shows us the unfinished result. As Giacometti paints, thinks, and erases repeatedly, we in the audience try to imagine what inner turmoil is causing all the changes. When that question falls short of any answer, we accept that this is what sets his work apart. His mental process is his alone. We have learned that his work springs from his mind to the canvas as if it were uninvited and suffers his own rejection nearly every time.

Clemence Poesy plays Giacometti’s resident prostitute/lover. Tony Shalhoub is the artist’s brother, Diego. Armie Hammer is wisely restrained as the understanding friend, and Geoffrey Rush becomes the focus for everyone in the audience as well as in the movie. His Giacometti is astonishing in a state of silent frustration with his own work. He seems to be daring himself to fail by not knowing his own goal. Director Stanley Tucci gives us not a finished portrait of the famous artist, but a portrait of the chaotic mind and surroundings of a brilliant man.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Final Portrait
Word Count: 495
Running Time: 2:07
Rating: R
Date: March 18, 2018

 

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

The Hollywood culture of the 1950s is on full display in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Wrapped in the calculated mannerisms of the era, sexpot actress Gloria Grahame won a supporting actress Oscar in ‘52. For women, twenty-five was retirement time. There were legends who were exceptions, but most young women, like Grahame, fell into sudden oblivion. Women were scripted additions to male stars whose age, of course, didn’t matter.

We watch Annette Benning create Gloria Grahame in her golden days, followed by her affair with the much younger Peter Turner. Eventually, she leaves him for another man, dabbles in all kinds of ludicrous adventures, becomes sick and dies at fifty-five. All this is based on Peter Turner’s memoir of his affair with Grahame after the culture of the era forced her off the screen. His sensitive book about a woman who remained a creature of her time has been filmed with dignity by everyone involved.

The operative word here is atmosphere. When Grahame moves in with Turner in 1979 and says “It’s a long way back to Sunset Boulevard,” we realize that we are in for a mixture of both sadness and appreciation. We watch snatches of her old movies, hear her memories – and watch her decline. The story unfolds in diminished natural colors as director Paul McGuigan and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh turn Peter Turner’s memories into a groundbreaking look at what can happen when stardom ends. Theirs is a groundbreaking look behind the scenes in Hollywood’s glory days. They have done it with delicacy and respect.

Annette Benning becomes Gloria Grahame without ever once trying to soften the tough reality that growing older bestowed on Hollywood women. Benning at fifty-five, has known continual success as an actress and as a wife with a husband and four children. As she steps into this part, she leaves behind any of the fakery she might have used in a role that is often unflattering to her. It is a tribute to the culture of today that women of her talent can command the screen at any age.

Jamie Bell creates Peter Turner, the aspiring young English actor who was smitten with Grahame and helped her through her last days after she had left him for another man. Peter and his mother Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) become Grahame’s custodians while she is dying. Grahame’s last words, “How do I look?” are the perfect summary of what we have seen.

The acting conveys it all. Annette Benning creates a brave older woman who is living in pretense, caught in her own flawed imagining of who she really is. Jamie Bell does a beautiful job as the younger lover, resisting any temptation to overdo his part. Add to these Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham as Peter’s parents and Vanessa Redgrave as Grahame’s mother. This is a cast who understood the delicacy of bringing Peter Turner’s book to the screen and they do it with great sensitivity. It’s original. It’s good.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Word Count: 497
Running Time: 1:45
Rating: R
Date: 25 February 2018