The Look – A Self-Portrait Through Others

Charlotte Rampling in The Look

Charlotte Rampling in The Look

One of the greatest film critics of all time, André Bazin, posed the question in the title of one of his books, ‘Qu’est-ce que le cinéma ?’ – ‘What is cinema?’ I believe that this question can be furthered in relation to an evergreen star of cinema; ‘What is cinema without actors like Charlotte Rampling?’

The actress in question may not be the greatest or most recognised over her period yet cinema would be a far less interesting place without her presence and uniqueness.

With that in mind, it brings great excitement to see the upcoming DVD release of Angelina Maccarone’s biopic, The Look. This is an extraordinary work which was warmly received at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and will be out on DVD release in the UK on Monday 30 April.

It centres on the aforementioned Charlotte Rampling, an actress the French label as La Légende. Now 65, this Essex-born actress remains an intriguing and fascinating on-screen presence, the most recent example being in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. It is Rampling’s evocative facial expression that has influenced the documentary’s title; The Look – a term originally coined in reference to Rampling by two-time co-star, Dirk Bogarde.

Bogarde was once quoted as saying, “I have seen the Look under many different circumstances…the glowing emerald eyes turn to steel within a second, [and] fade gently to the softest, tenderist, most doe-eyed bracken-brown”. The duality of Rampling’s gaze, seen over several decades now, has been one of the great cinematic looks to appear on-screen.

The Look is not the most conventional of biographical documentaries, in part mainly due to Rampling’s influence and final say over all aspects of the project. The structure of the work is separated by eight themes chosen by the director and subject (Rampling): Exposure, Age, Resonance, Taboo, Desire, Demons, Death and Love.

Each section sees Rampling discuss an individual theme with people such as photographer Peter Lindbergh and author Paul Auster. Rampling travels the globe in search of friends and colleagues, going from London to New York to Paris, stopping off in cafés, hotel rooms and a houseboat.

She has clearly led an interesting life, much of which stems from her father’s decision (an army colonel who worked abroad) to place his two daughters in a French school when Rampling was only nine years old. The obvious language barrier made this experience a lonely one where it took her nine months before she could communicate with her fellow pupils.

Ultimately, Rampling looks back at this period as formative and it influenced her to make more challenging career choices. This led to a filmography of diverse, obscure and thought-provoking roles.

Peter Lindbergh and Charlotte Rampling in The Look

Peter Lindbergh and Charlotte Rampling in The Look

Having appeared in such great films as François Ozon’s Under the Sand and Visconti’s The Damned, Charlotte Rampling has demonstrated an astuteness in her choice of roles that should not be underestimated. As Paul Auster states in the film, not many actresses manage to continue their careers after middle-age and those who do usually have something to say for it. The Look does not let you down in this respect.

Throughout, Rampling is engaging as the subject of this documentary and her warm exchanges with friends always produce interesting and intriguing results. Her insight into the industry she was introduced to from a young age is fascinating as she describes and alludes to her indifference towards celebrity and Hollywood. However, there is much more to this documentary than Rampling’s thoughts on the film industry and the director’s influence should not be overlooked either.

Rampling’s “stamp of approval” may overshadow Maccarone’s evident contribution to The Look yet Rampling and her friends are captured beautifully through Maccarone’s vision. The German director seeks to use reflections and shot angles to good effect when filming those on screen which literally matches the reflexive nature of their conversations as they muse on love and desire.

This is a work of contemplation and life theory, no theme is fully covered and anyone could relate and add to what is being discussed. The spectator therefore becomes fully enveloped in the way this artist’s portrait transcends the notions of a conventional biographical documentary. Instead, it focuses on the thoughts and questions posed by one of cinema’s great unheralded stars.

Despite this documentary’s unique angle, it achieves what every film of its type should do, in that it increases the audience’s understanding of the film’s subject. Charlotte Rampling reaffirms her status as one of the most interesting and thought-provoking actresses in contemporary cinema and The Look represents the perfect example to understand why.

BFI Southbank will be screening The Look on 27 April, which is followed by a Q&A with Charlotte Rampling. The Look will be out on DVD from 30 April.

The Look – A Self Portrait Through Others is just one of many home entertainment releases from Park Circus which will be hitting the shelves in the weeks ahead. To discover what other gems lie in wait, head to our news site…..

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