FFF: The Look – Charlotte Rampling gives us a self portrait through others.

The Look opens with an incredibly evocative moment.  Charlotte Rampling is looking out over the New York harbour. The camera moves in behind her and in slow motion she turns and removes her sunglasses and BANG!  The Camera freezes. And there is it. The Look. That which she is most famous for and the title of the film.

We are then launched into the first of a series of creative themes that, although a tad pretentious, give the actress an opportunity to talk about life and art and what it is like to live a life marrying the two. The first segment – and I think by far the most interesting – is a discussion between her and fashion photographer Peter Lindberg. All the conversations are supposed to be unplanned, but when Rampling turns the camera on Lindberg, well into his sixties, and he says “I’ve never been photographed before.  Oh its hard!” I had to hide a quiet smile. Angelina Maccarone is the filmmaker here, but you get the distinct feel of a very collaborative effort. And the actress did have final say on the film. Still Maccarone has made a complex and interesting documentary about a very complex and interesting woman.

However, the conversation that follows, about HOW one IS in order to have a good photograph taken, and the vulnerable relationship between the three – subject, camera and photographer, is (I think) spellbinding. I have never heard a model speak with such clarity and richness about the actual process of modelling. About the complex nature of making ones inner self available for the camera. Lindberg says at one point that he can ask things of her with a camera in front of him that he could never ask her in a social context. Rampling counters this statement with the observation that when she is working, she is allowing herself a vulnerability that she can’t be in her own ‘real life’. That is, she constantly fears exposure, however when she is in front of the camera she confronts that fear on behalf of the art. That awkwardness we all feel in front of the camera is something she carries with her, but overcomes. That is the art.

She relates this to the film lens as well and speaks very openly about the mental preparation process she goes through before shooting a scene. She talks about taking roles that have challenged her and why she does that. She is easily bored – very bright – and comfortable talking with us (the camera) about the challenges which end up being their own pleasures.

The conversations then continue through the remaining topics — “Exposure,” “Age,” “Beauty,” “Resonance,” “Taboo,” “Demons,” Desire,” “Death” and “Love”. The conversations are interspersed with scenes from Ms. Rampling’s films, including Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories”; Luchino Visconti’s “Damned”; François Ozon’s “Swimming Pool” and “Under the Sand”; Silvio Narizzano’s “Georgy Girl,” the 1966 British film that made her star; and Liliana Cavani’s “Night Porter,” in which she plays a concentration camp survivor who reunites years later in a Vienna hotel with the sadistic Nazi guard (Dirk Bogarde) who tormented her.  I was thinking I will review NIght Porter soon.

Rounding out the list are “The Verdict” (Sidney Lumet) and “Max Mon Amour,” Nagisa Oshima’s comedy in which she plays a diplomat’s wife who has a passionate affair with a chimpanzee. Conspicuously missing is her recent cameo in Todd Solondz’s “Life During Wartime” and  left off is “The Eye of The Storm.”  Although Ms. Rampling has more to say on some topics than on others, there are no blinding revelations or titillating confessions. Talking with the photographer Peter Lindbergh in “Exposure,” she remarks, “If you want to give anything worthwhile of yourself, you have to feel completely exposed.” For her nudity seems never to have been a big deal. The “Taboo” segment examines a risqué series of self-portraits, “Louis XV,” that the German fashion photographer Juergen Teller shot.  For some reviews it was a big problem that she doesn’t give away more of her private life. She never mentions her lovers, let alone goes into detail about her affairs. For me this was a breath of fresh air, however. I found what she did say much more intimate than gossip and far more penetrating than anecdote.

Charlotte Rampling assumes we will be more interested in what she has to say conversationally than in the gossip about her. I for one, am grateful for the compliment.