Today: February 25, 2024

The Look

The title of Angelina Maccerone’s new biographical documentary of Charlotte Rampling plays on the actress’s famously dark, vixen-eyed allure, seductive yet glacial by turns, a woman with secrets, dangerous to know.

The
title of Angelina Maccerone’s new biographical documentary of Charlotte Rampling
plays on the actress’s famously dark, vixen-eyed allure, seductive yet glacial
by turns, a woman with secrets, dangerous to know.
The
film was warmly received at last year’s Cannes Festival – little surprise given that Rampling’s
profile in France, where she is known as “La Legende,” is higher than in her
native Britain.

Based on her looks alone, Charlotte Rampling
would appear the classic femme fatale
and, had she sought more overtly commercial roles, she’d have been obvious
casting material for period drama and noirish pastiche. With Rampling though,
it has never been that simple. “I’ve never been interested in the entertainment
side of cinema,” she says at one point in this film. Rather, what attracts her
is what it can show of the workings of the human mind. Despite her modeling
background, her credits denote a highly calculated avoidance of the mainstream.

Dirk
Bogarde
, who co-starred with Rampling in her most
controversial film, the sado-masochistic Night
Porter
, described the aforesaid “Look” most memorably. “I have seen…. the
glowing emerald eyes turn to steel within a second, [and] fade gently to the softest
, most doe-eyed bracken-brown.” But Night Porter was made nearly forty years
ago, and Bogarde has been dead for thirteen years. Some of the most interesting
moments of this film feature the actress – still slender and hauntingly
beautiful – reflecting on the process of age, the loss – or retention – of attractiveness,
and the distinction between sexuality and sensuality.

This documentary does not adhere to a
conventional, chronological structure. Details of Rampling’s background are
mentioned in passing, from which we learn that she had a strict Protestant
upbringing. Because of her army officer father’s overseas posting, she was
educated in a French school where for the first nine months she was unable to
communicate with her fellow pupils, giving her an early insight into the nature
of solitude. Footage from her films, including Georgy Girl, The Damned
and The Night Porter, is interspersed with the actress talking about her life, or
in conversation with friends and collaborators in various locations in London,
Paris and New York.

Rampling retained final control over the
subjects discussed, but the perception and range of her observations is such
that the viewer is seldom aware of this, and the film succeeds in deepening
appreciation of Rampling’s dedication to making “meaningful” films, and respect
for her achievement in living an independent life seemingly stripped clean of
any of the usual trappings of celebrity and stardom.

Maintaining a challenging career beyond the
age of, say, 50 is a struggle for a performer of either sex, but for a female whose initial entry into
the industry was based on her beauty, doubly so. Charlotte Rampling, like Helen Mirren, is a rare exception. Now
sixty-six, her name on the billing is still a guarantee of quality, even if,
unlike Mirren, she has specialised in art house work for European directors. This
film makes few concessions to anyone not already familiar with her work, but
for anyone wishing for an insight into the art of films, it is compelling
viewing.

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