Thursday, November 3, 2011

Charlotte’s Web

Charlotte Rampling: The Look
Directed & written by Angelina Maccarone
Starring Charlotte Rampling, Paul Auster, Peter Lindbergh, Jurgen Teller
Released by Kino Lorber Films; opened November 4, 2011

In her intriguing documentary about British actress Charlotte Rampling, The Look, director Angelina Maccarone employs an ingenious structure that prevents the movie from being merely a career chronology.

Maccarone’s film divides into nine sections (title cards announce them, from “Exposure” to “Love”), each with Rampling interacting with artist friends like author Paul Auster and photographer Peter Lindbergh, or her son, director Barnaby Southcombe. Maccarone then intercuts excerpts from one of Rampling’s dozens of films to further illustrate that section’s theme.

Rampling, who became one of the most recognizable international stars of the past decade in films by French directors Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, Under the Sand) and Laurent Cantet (Heading South), had a healthy career for over 30 years before her current renaissance, as Maccarone’s portrait shows. The first section, “Exposure,” which shows her and Lindbergh taking turns posing for each other‘s camera, includes clips from Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories (1980), in which Rampling memorably played a narcissistic beauty.

Maccarone pairs the indelible scene from Allen’s film of Rampling repeating her emotionally needy lines to the camera in close-up with the actress and Lindbergh happily taking photos of each other. The director’s conceit--to present specific topics like “Age,“ “Beauty” or “Death” and link them to scenes from Rampling’s films and her own relationships--works well enough for 90 minutes. But what the movie does best is to remind us long this veteran actress has been working.

I didn’t even remember that Rampling co-starred in the 1966 classic Georgy Girl with Lynn Redgrave and Michael Caine or 1982’s The Verdict, where Rampling was on the receiving end of an infamous slap in the face from Paul Newman. Also include are excerpts from her starring roles in two controversial films: Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969) and Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (1975), the latter of which takes up the “Taboo” section, with Rampling pointedly discussing Pauline Kael’s scathing review that raked Rampling over the coals for agreeing to take on the role of a scarred concentration camp survivor who has an affair with the camp’s former commandant, a role which Kael found morally repugnant.

The Look concludes with “Love,” which shows Rampling talking about those personal and nearly inscrutable feelings with her friend, director Cynthia Fleury, and Cynthia’s daughter Joy, intercut with excerpts from Nagisa Oshima’s Max Mon Amour (1986), a satirical misfire in has Rampling falling in love with a chimpanzee. The movie could have also done double duty in the “Taboo” section, but Rampling herself notes that Max is, at bottom, a real love story.

Throughout The Look, Charlotte Rampling comes across as a fiercely intelligent woman secure in her own skin and a compelling actress secure in her own career choices.

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