English actress and icon Charlotte Rampling is given a documentary once-over in tune with her nonconformist personality in “The Look.” German helmer Angelina Maccarone, whose fiction features such as “Unveiled” and “Vivere” also showcased strong femme protags, dubs this work “a self-portrait through others,” and lets Rampling discuss topics ranging from age to desire and death with artist friends such as Peter Lindbergh and Paul Aster. Light on biographical detail, the film instead investigates Rampling’s fascinating personality. Pic’s ideally suited to kick off retros at cinematheques, and could do minor niche theatrical biz, though it lacks any bigscreen wow.
Opening seg, which sees Rampling discuss “Exposure” with Lindbergh, is the strongest of all segments, a telling mini-portrait not only of Rampling, her relationship to her profession, her looks and the camera, but also of the celebrity photog and the duo’s playful friendship. In a spontaneous moment, Rampling makes Lindbergh pose for some pictures, which apparently he has never done before. Unsurprisingly, the 65-year-old diva not only turns out to be a capable shutterbug but loves being in command.
None of the other sections quite live up this first one. A total of eight topics are explored, each time in one-on-one conversations that take place between New York, Paris and England. Subjects include “Age,” with novelist Paul Aster; “Taboo” with German photographer Juergen Teller, with whom she shot the risque 2005 Louis VX series, and “Desire” with production designer Franckie Diago, with whom she worked on Laurent Cantet’s sex-tourism pic “Heading South.”
For a section with poet Frederick Seidel called “Demons,” Rampling’s partner seems unwilling to appear onscreen but is heard reciting a poem in v.o., while Maccarone inserts interview footage of Rampling shot without the poet.
As in Michael Radford’s “Michel Petrucciani,” which also screened on the Croisette this year, Maccarone refuses to identify the people seen talking with Rampling, which makes it hard to immediately understand their relationships with the actress. For the section called “Resonance,” she sits down with filmmaker and actor Barnaby Southcombe, but anyone unfamiliar with Southcombe’s family tree will fail to understand from the segment that he’s Rampling’s son (his feature “I, Anna,” which stars Rampling, is in postproduction).
Similarly, the presence of a piece by Jean-Michel Jarre on the soundtrack might not seem significant, except for the fact Rampling was married to the — otherwise unmentioned — composer for 20 years.
Many of the juicy biographical details are in fact missing here, though Rampling does touch on her sister’s suicide at 23, which would ultimately feed into her work with French helmer Francois Ozon (“Under the Sand,” “Swimming Pool”), the one collaborator who seems to be missing from the lineup. Much to her credit, Maccarone tries to paint a picture of the artist’s personality rather than make a straightforward and chronological biography, but a little more contextual information might have made the pic a whole lot more accessible.
Extracts from her most famous films, including “The Damned,” “The Night Porter,” “Georgy Girl” and “Stardust Memories,” are sprinkled throughout. While these serve as powerful reminders of the scope of her talent (as well as her unusual beauty through the years), they do not always fit the direct context in which they are shown.
Technically, the film is TV-ready.