Friday, May 25, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #21: Charlotte Rampling: The Look

Supurbly unflattering cover photo aside, this collection of conversations with a legendary film star was originally reviewed for  DVD Snapshot. Do you really get to know the woman, or is she the living embodiment of the Sphinx herself? I'm still not sure. 

All I know is I really wanna see Max Mon Amour now...

Official Synopsis:

Legendary actress Charlotte Rampling (Heading South, Melancholia) is "the perfect confluence of brains and beauty" (Time Out NY), and The Look is the entrancing documentary that brings you into intimate contact with both.

Director Angelina Maccarone has Rampling engage in candid conversations with many of her closest friends, including author Paul Auster and photographer Juergen Teller. Very much at ease with these old acquaintances, Rampling reveals her views on aging, beauty, desire and death with disarming frankness. Often these conversations veer into the questions raised by her films, like the taboo sexuality of The Night Porter and Max mon Amour, or the tough moral choices of Sidney Lumet's The Verdict.

This "haunting and captivating" (LA Times) portrait was an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival and features clips from many of Rampling's films (including Woody Allen's Stardust Memories, and Francois Ozon's Swimming Pool), showing the breadth and depth of her talent. The Look is a revelatory documentary that deeply explores the mind and work of one of the greatest artists of the past 40 years.

Our Take:

Box-copy hyperbole aside, Charlotte Rampling has always been a mesmerizing movie star, one better than many of the films she's in. For every classic like The Night Porter, Swimming Pool, or The Damned, there's also been an Orca, Zardoz, and Basic Instinct 2 (this last film would have benefited greatly by focusing on her instead of its lead). As a lioness in winter, however, her sixties are suiting her. That voice remains, richer than ever, and her insights are well-earned, but Charlotte Rampling: The Look is named for her legendary beauty and direct gaze. The remarkable face has aged untouched by doctors, the heavier eyelids addressed first thing.

Quietly stealing the movie from Sharon Stone
The conceit here of a "Self Portrait Through Others" should be a smart way to get a subject feeling comfortable enough to open up. The series of discussions held here by Rampling and friends feel like a celebrity interview show. Unfortunately, most of them are self-consciously staged. The woman in question turns out to be observant, intelligent, and realistic. She muses on a series of topics including life, aging, film acting, and beauty... but is also never less than pre-meditated. As The Look keeps you conscious of the camera, and reminds you how good she is in front of it, you have to ask "Is she performing for it as herself, or just performing?"
Furthermore, her interview partners are never formally introduced. The audience is sometimes left to intuit who's who, how close Rampling is with them, and what's being discussed. By the time you get to the "Taboo" sequence, if you're not invested in this approach, you'll wind up possibly alienated by some of the self-indulgent subject matter presented with half the film still to go. The most striking thing you might take away from the transitory structure and fleeting conversations is that she seems, not lonely, but someone perfectly comfortable being by herself.

The Look is strongest when just letting Rampling speak and underscoring the topic with her film clips. Turning a camera on someone and just letting them espouse ideas can be a risky business. Rampling delivers stimulating conversation while still keeping a bit of distance. Biographic details are eschewed here, but that's OK here. Sometimes, letting the subject express themselves through their own lens of experience reveals more than just reciting occurrences. Charlotte Rampling is a gracious hostess and seems game, but she never reveals her cards.

Audio & Video:

Photographed by Helmut Newton
Presented in 1.85:1, 1930x1080p widescreen and in 2.0 LPCM stereo, the image and sound of The Look are more functional than remarkable.

Special Features:

Disappointingly, there are only a collection of trailers and a gallery of film stills. This Blu-ray also lacks subtitles.


Charlotte Rampling: The Look is something of a vanity project, but one you're comfortable indulging. Interesting conversation with an intelligent, unique actress, but marred by somewhat pretentious structure and a dearth of biographical detail.

Overall Picture:

Movie: B- for the Rampling fan, a solid C- otherwise
Video: B-
Audio: B-
Extra Features: D

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