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Laura Blum

Laura is a festival correspondent covering films and the festival circuit for She also publishes on Thalo



Stanley Tucci's “Final Portrait”: A Conversation with Production Designer James Merifield

Final Portrait is an artist’s studio tour and you’re on the invite list. The artist is Swiss sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printmaker Alberto Giacometti, and the studio, as writer Jean Genet put it, is “a milky swamp, a seething dump, a genuine ditch.” Plaster busts and bony figures haunt the space amidst a mess of tools and splatters. It’d be downright spooky were it not for the creative spirit infusing the ruins.

That legendary Montparnasse hovel is where Stanley Tucci’s new film largely unfolds. It’s 1964, two years before Giacometti’s death, as the 60-something artist (Geoffrey Rush) tries to capture the American art critic James Lord (Armie Hammer) on canvas. What’s supposed to be “an afternoon at most” goes on for 18 nerve-fraying days.

Like a modern-day Penelope weaving and unravelling, Giacometti repeatedly paints – and paints over – Lord’s portrait. He no more means to complete it than he ascribes meaning to doing so. Nor is he settled about his creative powers. “We must go on. I can’t go on,” the artist declares with Beckettian iffiness. As the session stretches on, Lord cancels flights if not expectations.

“My brother can only be happy when he’s desperate,” observes Giacometti’s sibling and right-hand man Diego (Tony Shalhoub). This paradox may also govern the artist’s obsession with prostitute slash muse Caroline (Clémence Poesy) that drives his wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) to take a lover of her own.

The saga behind the portrait, which Giacometti begifted Lord and which in 2015 sold for more than $20 million, is drawn from Lord’s memoir A Giacometti Portrait. To learn the saga behind visualizing Final Portrait, I speak with production designer James Merifield, known for features including The Deep Blue SeaAustenlandThe Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Sense and Sensibility and Little Dorrit.

Ask the Emmy Award-winning craftsman about reconstructing Alberto Giacometti’s art studio, and he’ll take you to a secret vault. Get the full story here:

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