If you are aware of the British actress Charlotte Rampling and familiar with her small, but usually controversial body of work, you may find "Charlotte Rampling: The Look” fascinating. Then again, even given those circumstances, there’s a chance you may not warm up to this rather aloof biographical documentary written and directed by Angelina Maccarone.
Aloofness being a quality in many of Rampling’s screen roles, it doesn’t seem entirely out of character. But a good screenplay lends an air of mystery that a documentary can’t quite attain.
If you are now at the point where you are trying to place Ms. Rampling, you may remember her best as the woman who betrayed Paul Newman in Sidney Lumet’s “The Verdict” (1982) or perhaps for her earlier appearance as the stunning ex-girlfriend in Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories” (1980).
My first impression of Rampling was as the title character’s sullen, bitchy roommate in “Georgy Girl,” Silvio Narizzano’s 1966 comedy that earned Oscar nominations for Lynn Redgrave as Georgy and James Mason as her much older benefactor and suitor. Rampling, celebrated for her sultry beauty, had already appeared in Richard Lester’s groundbreaking “The Knack…and How to Get It.”
“I was put into movies because I was beautiful,” Rampling matter-of-factly tells one of the several, unfamiliar (at least to my eyes) friends and colleagues with whom she converses over the course of the film. Each interviewer—in some cases they are more interviewee with Rampling posing the questions—takes his or her place in one of the titled sections that punctuate the film like chapters: Exposure, Age, Beauty, Resonance, Taboo, Demons, Desire, Death and Love. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and given the fact that her on-screen partners are neither identified nor easily identifiable, it takes a few minutes to figure out why he or she has been selected for a particular segment.
For the record, they are German fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh; American author Paul Auster; her son Barnaby Southcombe; Juergen Teller, a German artist and photographer with whom Rampling posed nude in a fashion layout; American poet Frederick Seidel; Franckie Diago, a production designer working mostly in French film; self-taught American artist Anthony Palliser; French filmmaker Joy Fleury and her daughter Cynthia Fleury, a journalist and academ ic.
Each section also refers to clips from films that are meant to illustrate the chapter titles, but again, the references are not always as obvious as the scene from Liliana Cavani’s controversial 1974 film, “The Night Porter” used to illustrate the section called Taboos.
Wearing little or no makeup throughout the film, Rampling is still beautiful to look at. And her throaty voice makes a compelling narrator of her observations about age, beauty, etc. But in all but a few instances, they are observations rather than intimate recollection. Particularly disappointing is a rather detached conversation with Southcombe, one of her two sons…unless we are to consider the scene they rehearse together as autobiographical. And that would be a subjective assumption out of line with the tone of the documentary.
Actually, we learn very little about Charlotte Rampling’s personal life. As for “The Look”—a smoldering glance compared to one earlier perfected by Lauren Bacall—it makes a better subtitle than it does a theme.
“Charlotte Ramping: The Look” opened in New York City on Nov. 4 and will likely soon appear in an art house near you. Don’t expect it at the Cineplex.