Please Note: The screen captures used here are taken from promotional materials provided by Kino Lorber, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
Celebrity profiles might seem to be one of the more disposable categories of entertainment, but like anything else, it's all in the details and execution. Since we seem to live in a time where far too many people become "celebrities" just by being profiled, some caution is definitely in order, but there are still those who got famous for doing something creative or otherwise worthwhile. Not too long ago, we got a sharp cinematic reminder of that with the surprisingly intimate Woody Allen: A Documentary, and now we have the even more imaginatively up-close-and-personal Charlotte Rampling: The Look. Of course, as an actress and model, Rampling has never been nearly as insular and publicity-shy as Allen (for whom she once memorably starred, in 1980's Stardust Memories), so we have had comparatively more access to her over the years. But director Angelina Maccarone has set up and structured her film on the legendarily cool, smart, sophisticated Rampling in such a way that we become not just witnesses to questions and answers or dutifully recounted career highlights but privileged eavesdroppers granted access to some genuinely personal expressions of thought, feeling, and memory.
Maccarone's camera follows along with Rampling for sojourns through multiple cities on two continents--Paris, London, New York--as she wanders the streets with her trademark statuesque grace, omnipresent camera strapped around her neck, in search of particularly penetrating views. Her camera is a metaphor for the substance of the film, in which Rampling is documented in conversation with some creative-class friends (some of them quite well-known) as they verbally try to capture some important essence or truth in much the same way Rampling has been looking for the most incisive, truthful glimpse through her camera's viewfinder.
We thus see and hear Rampling, sometimes alone but more often in conversation, pondering the pre-chosen, grand-scale philosophical topics--"exposure," "beauty," "age," "demons," "love," "death"--that provide the film with its loose-enough but logically progressing structure. "Age" is discussed over tea on New York writer Paul Auster's (Smoke) houseboat; "taboo" is the topic that Rampling discusses with photographer/collaborator Juergen Teller; "resonance" finds her in conversation with her son, director Barnaby Southcombe, as they prepare for a film project they're working on together; "demons" is a long-shot stroll through Central Park with the reclusive poet Edward Seidel, and so on. The film's elegant DV videography by Bernd Meiers attains a documentary rush in the exterior shots, an arresting, symmetrical composure in the more controlled interiors; the recurrence of Calexico's subdued, insinuating, slinky, slide guitar-driven "Sprawl" makes for very apt sonic punctuation and transitions.
But The Look, more than most films, lives or dies by the powers of captivation at the disposal of its subject, and since that is the coolly pensive yet by turns quite warm and generally happy, generous Rampling, that's hardly a problem. She is a formidably intelligent conversationalist who leavens her cerebral rigor with a witty charm that seems effortless. And in case we needed to be reminded of the fearless body of work through which, along with her singular beauty, she caught the public eye in the first place, there are clips accompanying ruminations on some of her most remarkable films: Georgy Girl, The Damned, The Night Porter, The Verdict, and Under the Sand, among others.
The film's only drawbacks are that the repetition of one voice over time, even when other voices are included for variety as they are here, can become monotonous, and that even the most deeply thoughtful and intelligent among us (and Rampling certainly belongs to that category) can find ourselves overreaching or blowing hot air if called upon to philosophize (or when calling upon others to listen to us philosophize) for too long a stretch at one time. However, that sense only rarely arises in The Look. In general, it's a luxuriantly intimate visit with an extraordinary actress/artist who has plenty of substance on her mind and an extraordinary ability to articulate it through word and gesture (proving that those actor's tools have an important use in real life, too). It's also a reminder to those of us for whom it's been too long that it's about time we treated ourselves to a revisitation of some of the great films and brilliant performances that gave Rampling more than sufficient credibility to warrant a documentary dedicated to her alone.
THE BLU-RAY DISC:
The film's transfer (AVC/MPEG-4, 1080/24p, at the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1), as is common and expected for film's shot on high-def digital video, looks splendid in that sparking-clear (if rather planar) way that DV offers. The film clips used look fairly beat up due to the less-than-stellar sources from which they were evidently taken, but there isn't a single moment of aliasing, edge enhancement, or other artifacts that could be chalked up to a misstep in the transfer.
The uncompressed PCM 2.0 soundtrack gives us Rampling's distinctively deep, mellifluously British voice--along with those of her interlocutors and the bass-y --in full, lovely resonance, with nary a hint of distortion or imbalance anywhere.
Not much, just a pretty small stills gallery (you can see most of them right here in this review) and the film's theatrical trailer along with a small handful of other Kino Lorber trailers.
Despite The Look's very occasional slip into the repetitiveness and monotony of a free-floating late-night college bull session, Charlotte Rampling's for the most part amazingly focused, erudite, and thoughtful contemplations of everything from her career to the meaning of existence turn out to be easily worth an hour and a half of enraptured attention, Rampling's persona, familiar from four decades of risk-taking, artistically committed film work, is simply one-of-a-kind, and this film, which finds her continuing to engage, branch out, and find new adventures in life and art, distills it in a way both concentrated and natural; it works equally well as either monument or snapshot. Recommended.