Charlotte Rampling: The Look
A sampling of Rampling: Actress is both subject and collaborator of documentary ‘The Look’
In case you’re not sure what the title’s about, “Charlotte Rampling: The Look’’ lets you know right off the bat, with a close-up of the actress turning those lethal gray eyes directly upon us. They promise everything and nothing: Accumulated erotic knowledge, an awareness of our darkest selves, a serenity completely without reassurance. The screen itself seems to shiver with cold, and then the movie proper begins.
The documentary is subtitled “A self-portrait through others,’’ and it pairs Rampling in conversation with various friends, artists, and colleagues. She discusses the risks of exposing oneself to the camera, with fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh, and climbs aboard a tugboat in New York Harbor with novelist Paul Auster to banter about aging. At 65, the one-time model has let her beauty weather without surgery; every line on her face has a story and every story has weight.
Rampling came up in the mid-1960s with other talented British dollybirds like Julie Christie, but she always seemed made of harder stuff. The scene from “Georgy Girl’’ (1966) in which her character looks at her newborn baby and spits out “I hate it!’’ is included here, and it still feels like a slap. While her peers spent the 1970s playing in the sandbox of the New Hollywood, Rampling was pushing the boundaries of European decadence in Visconti’s “The Damned’’ and Liliana Cavani’s “The Night Porter,’’ the latter a sado-masochistic psychodrama about Nazi guilt that sent critic Pauline Kael into a memorable hissy-fit.
“The Look’’ uses clips from “Night Porter’’ to illustrate the section called “Taboo,’’ and they continue to shock. So, in a more playful way, do images from the 2004 fashion shoot she made with artist-photographer Juergen Teller: scenes from an imagined debauch that, to hear Rampling and Teller talk about it, came from a place of profound mutual trust. The portrait that emerges from this film is of a woman carefully and repeatedly approaching the edges of cliffs, then leaping with abandon.
Director Angelina Maccarone is a newcomer, and the actress had final cut; it’s safe to say that Rampling is as much collaborator as subject. “The Look’’ exists in part to remind us of how many very good movies she has made, especially recently - “Under the Sand,’’ “Swimming Pool,’’ “The Verdict,’’ and more are represented with clips - and how many we may have forgotten. “Max Mon Amour’’ (1986), in which Rampling plays a bored wife in love with a chimpanzee, may not be in your Netflix queue, but the star considers it her most satisfying romance, and the scenes here are bizarrely engaging enough to warrant a second look.
“The Look’’ isn’t interested in glamorizing Rampling - it doesn’t have to - but there are traces of star vanity in the actress’s pronouncements to the camera, some offered simply (“I’ve had a lot of people think I’m a monster; I probably am a bit’’) and others handed down like self-conscious koans (“The best remedy for any kind of pain is to let it happen to you’’). Rampling belongs to that tribe of regal, wrecked, stateless Euro-divas - Marianne Faithfull and Nico are others - who dispassionately probe the outer limits of human experience. Her chattiness here is unexpected and disarming, and if the film’s overindulgent, it puts you in a forgiving mood. How often do we get to hear a lioness speak?