Charlotte Rampling: The Look (2011)
What’s Behind That Mona Lisa Smirk?
By STEPHEN HOLDEN in The New York Times
Published: November 3, 2011 / http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/04/movies/charlotte-rampling-the-look-review.html?_r=0
A lesson to be gleaned from “Charlotte Rampling: The Look,” Angelina Maccarone’s fascinating and frustrating documentary portrait of an enigmatic star, might be that it would be foolish to suppose that Ms. Rampling is anything like the transgressive women she portrays on the screen. The same is true of her photographic image, that of a heavy-lidded femme fatale. Could “The Look” be an accident of physiognomy? In this evasive film neither the director nor the star is about to speculate.
Ms. Rampling, now 65, belongs to the short list of cult movie actresses whose combination of
exotic beauty, intelligence and fierce independence lends them a particular erotic mystique. Along with Jeanne Moreau and Isabelle Huppert, she is a screen personality whose smoldering characters project an imperial confidence tinged with disdain. Those catlike eyes, lowered in a seemingly seductive gaze in tandem with a Mona Lisa smirk, send the same danger signals associated with Ms. Rampling’s Hollywood prototype, Lauren Bacall. Both also have deep voices that convey an ominous authority.
Ms. Rampling’s greatest screen performance, a clip from which is included in “The Look,” may be her portrayal of Ellen, an unmarried New England professor of French literature in Laurent Cantet’s “Heading South.” Ellen is the queen bee among a group of middle-aged women who make an annual pilgrimage to a resort in Haiti in the late 1970s to avail themselves of the sexual favors of handsome impoverished beach boys. It is hard to imagine Ms. Rampling as anything like Ellen.
Ms. Maccarone’s admiring study catches Ms. Rampling in conversation with friends and artists on different topics — “Exposure,” “Age,” “Beauty,” “Resonance,” “Taboo,” “Demons,” Desire,” “Death” and “Love” — which the film uses as pretentious chapter titles. The conversations are interspersed with scenes from Ms. Rampling’s films, including Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories”; Luchino Visconti’s “Damned”; François Ozon’s “Swimming Pool” and “Under the Sand”; Silvio Narizzano’s “Georgy Girl,” the 1966 British film that made her star; and Liliana Cavani’s “Night Porter,” in which she plays a concentration camp survivor who reunites years later in a Vienna hotel with the sadistic Nazi guard (Dirk Bogarde) who tormented her.
Rounding out the list are “The Verdict” (Sidney Lumet) and “Max Mon Amour,” Nagisa Oshima’s comedy in which she plays a diplomat’s wife who has a passionate affair with a chimpanzee. Conspicuously missing is her recent cameo in Todd Solondz’s “Life During Wartime.”
The conversations seem unrehearsed. Although Ms. Rampling has more to say on some topics than on others, there are no blinding revelations or titillating confessions. Talking with the photographer Peter Lindbergh in “Exposure,” she remarks, “If you want to give anything worthwhile of yourself, you have to feel completely exposed.” For her nudity seems never to have been a big deal. The “Taboo” segment examines a risqué series of self-portraits, “Louis XV,” that the German fashion photographer Juergen Teller shot.
For all her readiness to bare her flesh, Ms. Rampling reveals little of her inner life, and the film stints on biographical information. The closest thing to a nugget of wisdom is her stated belief in not running away from emotional pain. You should “let it happen to you,” she declares.
Her scattered observations on life, love and death are eminently sensible, rooted in an unflappable self-possession. She makes one reference to the emotional “chaos” of her younger days and more than one to her sister’s suicide at the age of 23, but her tone is dispassionate. Her major relationships — with the actor and publicist Bryan Southcombe; the French composer Jean-Michel Jarre; and to her current longtime companion, Jean-Noël Tassez, a French businessman — go unmentioned. Many of the artists and intellectuals with whom she converses are barely introduced, if at all.
This is not to say that “Charlotte Rampling: The Look” is a complete washout. A tease is more like it, an examination of the surface. Ms. Rampling is presented as an endlessly watchable mystery, an aloof but affable sphinx. But we knew that already.
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: THE LOOK
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Written and directed by Angelina Maccarone; director of photography, Bernd Meiners; edited by Bettina Böhler; music by Judith Kaufmann; produced by Charlotte Uzu, Gerd Haag, Michael Trabitzsch and Serge Lalou; released by Kino Lorber. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. This film is not rated.
A version of this review appears in print on November 4, 2011, on page C12 of the New York edition with
Charlotte Rampling: 'I know my power'
Her chilly sensuality has hooked directors from Woody Allen to Lars von Trier. Charlotte Rampling talks to Catherine Shoard about her no-go areas, Hollywood 'crap' – and why we might not like her new documentary
The Guardian, Wednesday 18 May 2011 / http://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/may/18/charlotte-rampling-look-melancholia-cannes
If you were to create an installation that captured the essence of Charlotte Rampling, it would almost certainly involve a stuffed lion and a king-sized bed. And you'd probably place them not in a room, but by a bar, on a beach, at the French Riviera. In this way you'd convey the imperious gloss, the fearsome sensuality, the hint of the ridiculous in Rampling's eat-you-for-breakfast pose.
As luck would have it, this is exactly the scene when we sit down to talk in Cannes. There is a stuffed lion, there is a king-sized bed. Impervious to the taxidermical horror behind her, Rampling perches on a pouffe and fixes me with her laser gaze. The lion peeps over her shoulder; by comparison, he is a pussycat.
Rampling, now 65, is all over this year's festival: she is drumming up interest in Julia, a thriller by her son Barnaby Southcombe, as well as promoting Lars von Trier's Palme d'Or contender Melancholia, in which she plays a woman based on the director's own mother. "She's dead, so he can do it now," she explains. "He hated her. She ruined his life, he said."
It's a small role, yet still a recognisable Rampling monster: all lipstick and bitterness and icy outbursts. So recognisable, in fact, that a ripple of laughter greeted her first line at yesterday's press screening. "Domineering? What a load of crap," she says when her ex-husband (John Hurt) describes her as such in a speech at the wedding of their daughter (Kirsten Dunst).
Rampling is also the subject of a new documentary, The Look, which is screening out of competition. The title comes from two-time co-star Dirk Bogarde, who once wrote: "I have seen the Look under many different circumstances . . . The glowing emerald eyes turn to steel within a second, [and] fade gently to the softest, tenderest, most doe-eyed bracken-brown." The film features plenty more like this: Paul Auster, a friend, tells her that she is more beautiful now than she was as a young woman. A group of elderly men who bump into her in the Tuileries garden in Paris are delighted when she gives one of them a kiss.
Shot by German newcomer Angelina Maccarone, The Look carries Rampling's "absolute stamp of approval"; the actor had final cut. "It was simply a condition of my involvement," Rampling says evenly. "If this film is about me then I have to accept it, and if I can't accept it, I have to know it can be destroyed. I'd rather it didn't exist if it wasn't something I couldn't recognise as being in some way close to who I am."
Not everyone has the confidence to be so unapologetically controlling, but Rampling has form. Last year, she made headlines when an attempt to co-author an autobiography with a friend came undone, ending in legal action. "A lot of people have asked me to do written things or have someone else write them for me," she says. "I've tried lots, nothing's worked. I can't express what I want to express yet."
She says she wasn't interested in Maccarone making a conventional documentary. "If you were to find all the people I've worked with and ask them what they think of me, they're all just going to say, 'Oh, wonderful', and it'll just be a lot of blah." So instead we have eight conversations between Rampling and one or other of her pals, each with a particular theme, sometimes involving a bottle of red, always drawing on one of her landmark performances. She talks exposure with the photographer Peter Lindbergh, as well as her breakthrough role in Georgy Girl. She hops aboard Auster's houseboat in Brooklyn to chew the fat about getting old. The subject of taboo is put to bed with the artist Juergen Teller, who shot her (and himself) naked for a 2004 fashion campaign. Cue footage of her two films with Bogarde: Visconti's The Damned, in which she played a young wife sent to a Nazi concentration camp; and Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter, featuring Rampling as a former camp inmate in a sadomasochistic relationship with her ex-guard. The film ends with the theme of love, a conversation with French writer-director Joy Fleury and Fleury's daughter, spliced with footage from Max, Mon Amour, starring Rampling as a diplomat's wife besotted with a chimp.
The Look is an unsettling film, even at its cosiest. Evidently, Rampling wants to make some kind of personal statement after years of submitting to the vision of others, but it is also incredibly exposing. So this is what makes her tick, these are her friends, her family, her confidantes, her concerns. And this is the look, the side of herself, that Rampling thinks the most flattering – or at least the one she wants to share with the world. Did she have any doubts about making it quite so intimate?
"I needed those types of people," she says. "Otherwise it would have been false. At one stage, it was suggested one of them might be a well-known actress, and I thought, 'I don't think it would really work.' I know a lot of actresses, but I don't have that kind of relationship with them." Why not? "Perhaps there's a competitivity, something animal there."
In Cannes, the film has been warmly received. Is she expecting a British audience to be tougher? There is a pause. "Possibly England might not like it. Although it's not French, they'd say it's self-indulgent, chatting away about oneself. The British can be like that. They can put barriers up on certain interesting pieces of cinema for that reason – it's a pity."
'I'm not staying in this madhouse'
Rampling was born in Essex, the daughter of a colonel and a painter. She still keeps a flat in London, but has been based abroad since the late 60s, working in Italy, and then relocating to France with her second husband, Jean-Michel Jarre, in 1976. They divorced some 20 years later; since then she has been engaged to the Parisian tycoon Jean-Noël Tassez.
She says she is comfortable Channel-straddling: it means she has stranger status wherever she is, an extra edge of mystery. In France, she is known simply as La Legende; in Britain, she stands on the edgy end of national treasure. (Some years ago, Barry Norman coined the verb "to rample", which he defined as "an ability to reduce a man to helplessness though a chilly sensuality".)
This duality also aids Rampling's inbuilt contrarianism. "Ever since I was a small child I've had this feeling – it's in my nature, and so it's not even pretentious – that if everyone's going one way I will go the other, just by some kind of spirit of defiance. That's how I can keep myself alive and interested and my emotions going. I could have been a superstar in America – I was certainly taken out there. But I said, 'No way, Jose, I'm not staying here in this madhouse.' So I left and I said, 'I'm gonna make arthouse films now.' I'm gonna find directors that want me for deeper things than all this crap. I knew I couldn't survive in Hollywood, actually. It would send me really round the bend."
She speaks with the certainty of someone who is rarely disagreed with, though what she says is essentially true: Woody Allen, for one, adjusted the schedule of Stardust Memories to fit around Rampling's diary, so that she could play his dream woman. The world has been her oyster; it's just that she has sometimes opted not to shuck it.
In the past, Rampling has said that her choice of roles is dictated not by a desire to entertain, nor by financial imperative, but as a means of self-examination, a way of testing her own limits. (A breakdown in the early 80s, following the birth of her second son, only amplified that impulse.) She laughs when I ask if this is still what drives her – less gravelly now, a touch more grandmotherly. "Yes, that's one of those grand statements I make. I must explore desert ground and see what can grow. But there are limits. I know in my heart what I would never do." What's that? "It's very simple. I'm actually very straight. In all areas. Funnily enough. But my straightness allows me to be incredibly daring in where I'm prepared to go."