5 January 2018



'Have you ever wanted to be a tree...?'

Well! If your idea of cinematic Valhalla is to watch an old geezer paint a much younger geezer in agonising fits and starts and dribs and drabs for ninety minutes, then boy, have I got a film for you...! It's actually a very good film but I certainly wouldn't recommend it to the lads on a rowdy, riotous stag night, nor yet to the ladettes on their charming equivalent. This one's strictly for the culture vultures and no foolin'...

I'd never actually heard of the Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti before this film, so I was happy to learn something of his work and creative process. He was born in 1901 and lived until 1966. The guy they got to play him in this movie is the living image of him. It's almost uncanny how like him he is.

In 1964, while living in gay Paree (surely the optimum place and time for creativity), he bumps into his chum James Lord, a handsome and aristocratic-looking young American writer and critic, whose two most famous books are biographies of Alberto Giacometti (surprise, surprise!) and Pablo Picasso. Giacometti asks Lord if he'll pose for a portrait for him and of course Lord is thrilled and says yes like a shot. It's quite an honour, after all.

Before long, Lord is kind of sorry he's agreed to the auld fella's request. Giacometti has a creative process or work method as chaotic as his rather sordid personal life. He only seems to work for a few minutes at any given time, then he swears at the canvas or flings something at it like a child in mid-tantrum, then buggers off to the pub or to a café for a bite to eat. 

It's a bit like watching Homer Simpson build a barbecue in the episode of THE SIMPSONS about the 'outsider art.' I love when Bart says to Marge 'yeah, he's done!' when he sees his ham-fisted Dad charge madly at the barbecue that just won't come together and knocks himself out cold.

Lord finds all this artistic temperament charming and delightfully eccentric at first, but then he realises that it's, like, costing him a small fortune to keep postponing his flight home to America on account of all the delays with the portrait.

But Giacometti, an irascible old cuss who gets away with murder just because he's a genius, won't be rushed, no matter what. He has his process and, of course, he must stick to it. He aggravates Lord greatly by making sweeping statements such as: 'Can a portrait ever really be finished?' 

Lord probably wants to slap him upside-the-head and scream 'Just draw the f**king picture, a**h***!' at him but he manages admirably to keep his cool and is the perfect gentleman throughout. Sartorially as well as in his manner, with his lovely expensive old perfectly-cut suits, probably bespoke, the kind you rarely see on men any more. Well, you rarely see men any more, haha, but that's another matter and one I don't want to get into here...

I went to see the artists' studio of acclaimed Irish painter Francis Bacon once. It's housed permanently in the Hugh Lane Gallery on Parnell Square, up there beside the Writers' Centre and the Irish Writers' Museum.

A great street to wander down if you're ever feeling like you need a bit of a cultural injection, lol. There's an art installation by the artist Julian Opie just outside the Hugh Lane. It's called SUZANNE WALKING IN A LEATHER SKIRT. That's one lovely undulating walk, I must say...!

Anyway, to get back to my original point, Bacon, apparently, could only work in the type of chaos that would give a tidy person nightmares till the end of time and, indeed, the truth behind these words can be seen reflected in the messiness of his workspace. But I bet he could put his hands on everything he needed at any given moment, d'you know what I mean?

It's not so much that Giacometti's studio is chaotic- it's no better or worse than others I've seen- but his lifestyle certainly is. He makes a fortune from his work and keeps his money hidden around the house in places he's long forgotten about, instead of sensibly putting it in the bank
and watching it accumulate. 

He doesn't seem to care about money, which is all very well and good for him, but his wife Annette has to beg him for a few francs to buy herself a decent, warm winter coat. And I bet he hasn't even bothered to write a will to see that Annette is looked after when he dies. If I'm misjudging him, fine, but I ain't apologising no-how. He's still a giant meanie.

Annette is a feckin' saint to put up with that old buzzard's shit. He won't buy her a decent house to live in, with a garden and proper bedrooms and all that. Instead, they live in the studio which looks cold and primitive.

The truly awful thing about it is the money he lavishes without thought or care on his much younger prostitute mistress Caroline, who's played by the French actress who portrayed Fleur de la Coeur in the HARRY POTTER movies.

The grizzled old Giacometti pays her pimps an absolute fortune for the pleasure of her company, both in and out of bed, and buys her a car without giving a shit about how hurt his wife will be. He's- ahem- not exactly a handsome devil, put it that way, and has the kind of face that only a mother could love, in all honesty. Girls would almost certainly not offer to sleep with him unless there were some sort of pretty hefty financial remuneration involved.

The mistress Caroline calls freely and openly round to his studio while the wife, whose home it is, has to scurry off to another room, upset and feeling horribly sidelined. Caroline even calls once to take the auld fella and Lord out for a spin in her shiny new voiture while the wife stays home. 

Giacometti uses the services of other prostitutes at times too, all costing money again, of course.
Watching the way he stumbles drunkenly up the street to the brothel with his overcoat flapping open in the breeze, he reminds me of those hard-drinking, hard-living Irish writers of that time. Whores and booze, booze and whores. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose...! 

As you've probably guessed, I haven't much sympathy for Giacometti, considering how he treats the long-suffering and loyal Annette, flaunting his infidelities in front of her like that and being unforgivably stingy about the housekeeping.

I would've liked to have found out more about the rather stiff-upper-lipped James Lord, about whom almost nothing personal is revealed. I looked him up online and there's nothing much there either, except for the fact that he managed to keep his homosexuality well-hidden when he was serving in the United States Army. Well, good, lol. We can't have that kind of thing getting out, especially amongst the brave boys of the Armed Forces. The very idea, lol.

So, did the blessed portrait ever get finished in the end? Was it any good in the end, even, or could a five-year-old's stick figure done in crayons and peanut butter and jam have matched it any day? As if I'd tell you, haha. I enjoyed the film very much, anyway, despite the fact that not much happens in it. I often prefer that kind of movie, though, to the action kind, but that's just me.

The Parisian graveyard through which Giacometti and Lord took their perambulations is just gorgeous. It looks a bit like the haunted Highgate cemetery, and it might even be a famous graveyard for all we know, like the one where Jim Morrison of The Doors and other persons of note are buried.

I actually wouldn't mind being buried myself if it were somewhere cool like that. I'm still down for cremation at the moment, though, and absolutely no Celine Dion to be played at the service or I absolutely will come back and haunt the living shit out of everyone concerned...



Written and Directed By
Stanley Tucci
Adapted from James Lord’s memoir ‘A Giacometti Portrait’

Geoffrey Rush
Armie Hammer
Tony Shalhoub
Sylvie Testud
Clémence Poésy


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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