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Berlinale: Stanley Tucci on Capturing Artist Alberto Giacometti for ‘Final Portrait’

Stanley Tucci’s “Final Portrait,” which plays out-of-competition at the Berlinale on Saturday, looks at a short period near the end of artist Alberto Giacometti’s tumultuous life. Variety spoke to the writer-director about his film, which stars Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer.

Tucci’s screenplay is adapted from American writer and art-lover James Lord’s memoir “A Giacometti Portrait,” which recounts a trip to Paris in 1964, when Giacometti painted his portrait. The process, which should have taken days, stretched across weeks, during which time Lord witnessed the chaos that was Giacometti’s life.

Tucci first came across Lord’s book in his 20s. “To me, it was a beautiful book about the creative process,” Tucci said. “No matter what field you are in in the arts it’s a really vital and important book.”

Although Tucci said he is not similar to Giacometti in temperament or lifestyle — “I do change my clothes and shower,” he joked — he added, “For anybody who is creative, there is a lot they’ll see in him [that is familiar].”

Unlike the films Tucci previously directed, such as “The Imposters” and “Joe Gould’s Secret,” he decided not to appear in “Final Portrait.” “I found being in the movies a distraction and I really wanted to focus on the film as a whole. I wanted to play Giacometti, but it was [too much]. I just needed to look at it from the outside.”

Giacometti, who’s played by Rush, could be cruel, Tucci conceded, particularly to his wife, Annette (played by Sylvie Testud), who wanted to “live a very standard bourgeois life,” while he preferred the company of his mistress, the prostitute Caroline (Clemence Poesy). “By all accounts he really didn’t want to get married and probably shouldn’t have because he tortured the poor thing,” Tucci said.

But Tucci saw Giacometti as a “captivating” character. “He was incredibly charming, very funny and entertaining,” he said. “He loved company and going out, and would sing bawdy songs in bars.” When it came to his art, it was a different matter. “Then he had that very intense and serious aspect.”

Giacometti’s humor was very dark, Tucci said, which would explain why he and playwright Samuel Beckett became such good friends. “There was a very similar tone in their work and also in their humor,” Tucci said.

Giacometti repeatedly destroyed or reworked his portraits of Lord, played by Hammer. What was he searching for? “I don’t think we will ever know that, but I can completely understand it because you do feel like nothing is ever finished when you are creating something,” Tucci said. “It can always be better or different. It is never really the thing you want it to be.”

“Final Portrait” is produced by Gail Egan for Potboiler Prods., alongside Nik Bower for Riverstone Pictures and Ilann Girard for Arsam Intl. HanWay Films is handling international sales on the film in Berlin, with CAA selling the U.S.

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