Published on November 3rd, 2011 | by Carlos J. Segura0
“Charlotte Rampling: The Look” opens November 4 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Running Time: 94 Minutes. Unrated.
One of the definitions of the word ‘look,’ as defined by Merriam-Webster is to ‘express by the eyes or facial expression.’ The most visually quoted look of Charlotte Rampling’s collection of expressions is one where the eyes are heavy-lidded yet focused as they look right into the camera while the lips are stern yet relaxed. And for particularly strong effect it should be carried with a slight downward tilt of the head.
It’s a look most identified from the early photos by Helmut Newton to Marc Jacobs’ advertising campaign in the early 2000s; or as seen in “Stardust Memories” or “The Verdict,” the two films where she is perhaps best known to American audiences. Or, to name some international successes, the controversial “The Night Porter”; and what is perhaps, so far as this critic is concerned, her finest achievement in film acting, “Under the Sand.” The ‘look’ has commanded such powerful admiration and fascination from a more than sufficient number of artists that Rampling has been able to stay a subject of admiration for film and photography gazers since her days as a 17-year-old model.
Angelina Maccarone’s “Charlotte Rampling: The Look” is a character/career study peppered with professional and life wisdoms, the better to draw the uninitiated in if you aren’t so familiar with Rampling’s career. However, it should be said that for maximum effect it helps to be familiar with Rampling’s filmography since a moderate amount of attention is paid to some of Rampling’s best work in film. Titles featured include: “The Damned,” “Stardust Memories,” “Swimming Pool,” “Georgy Girl,” “The Night Porter,” “The Verdict,” “Heading South,” “Under the Sand” and “Max, My Love.”
This attempt to express the philosophies, the technique and mysterious emotional process of Rampling’s acting for the camera, would be treat enough if only for letting you see Rampling at her most disarmed (for the camera), due in large part to Maccarone including friends and collaborators that make her ostensibly comfortable and open to speaking her thoughts. And to better structure the film and inspire the discussions Maccarone constructs the film based on seven subjects and includes in each section a film featuring Rampling that best reflects a subject of discussion. The subjects are: “Exposure,” “Age,” “Beauty,” “Resonance,” “Taboo,” “Demons,” “Desire,” “Death” and “Love.” Though the film chooses rather weighty topics, topics that accurately reflect the nature of the films and the persona of Charlotte Rampling, the film often feels as breezy as a free-flowing chat you’d have with a close friend. Contrary to Rampling’s intimidating, sharp persona, she is often seen laughing and smiling in the documentary, her body often relaxed. Rampling has never looked this comfortable on film.
Rampling’s thoughts on just about anything are so direct, clear and precise that she manages at times to turn the discussion of emotions, of acting, into less of a slippery slope. At one point she describes the process by saying she goes into an empty space and that it is something she likes to keep a bit mysterious. She does not shy away from the skin-deep aspects of being in front of camera, going so far as to point why it is not possible that she’s had plastic surgery.
When it comes to the subject of death she looks at it as something that allows us to live well because we are so aware of our expiration date. And to go with that age, particularly interesting considering her position as a woman in a youth-oriented business, is something she seems happy to accept, claiming it makes life easier to accept age. And the same goes for pain (don’t resist).
Regarding career choices there are some particularly interesting comments made on projects she chose to do. Rampling cites “Max, My Love” as a script she liked very much and responded to instantly, while claiming that her character in “Heading South” was lacking very much in the charm department. Her films with Ozon most certainly get their fair share of espousing, rightfully so, since he could mostly be credited, perhaps, with revitalizing her performance abilities and presenting them to a new audience.
Across the board most of the sections are equally interesting, save for perhaps “Beauty,” which is much too brief and coy, relatively speaking, and “Love,” which doesn’t draw any so nearly interesting conclusions like the other sections do. The anomaly, and the most evocative section, is easily the “Demons” section, which mostly opts for voiceover poetry cut to darkness and cityscapes. Aside from this one section the rest are covered with little of the director’s hand felt in the technical aspects. Maccarone merely provides the framework that guides the essentially conversation-driven film that while, as mentioned before, would perhaps be best enjoyed by seasoned Rampling fans it is suggested you come in for at least the little wisdoms. This critic defies you to forget the face, the look, that opens the film, appropriately, and that has kept a career going through several decades (along, of course, with a bountiful amount of talent that ranks as one of the finest in cinema history). Maccarone gives us (and Rampling) a documentary worthy of this look.