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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

She's got The Look

'Look at me when I'm talking to you...' (Photograph: Jeff Vespa/Contour by Getty Images)
Now in her 69 th year, actor Charlotte Rampling is a contradiction in a youth-centric film industry. Sensuality, whatever age, is what makes people attractive, she has said.  In her case, that sensuality is all in the eyes.  Luchino Visconti, who directed her in The Damned (1969), encompassed the razor sharp cheekbones, the deep sultry voice, but especially that chilly, leonine gaze, all in one simple phrase:  ‘The Look’. Viewers of the second season of TV drama Broadchurch will know what he means; that challenging gaze has not diluted and remains Rampling’s strongest weapon in her role as the formidable QC Jocelyn Knight.

It’s not just fictional characters she keeps at arm’s length. In real life, Rampling has refused the temptation of the plastic surgeon’s knife. You’ve got to wait, not panic, you need your face to grow with you, she has said.  Instead, she embodies a certain European, age-less froideur (born British, but raised and lives in France) that flies in the face of the gossip magazines fixated on  Bright Young Things. You get the impression that today’s obligatory red carpet demands would be a real chore for an actor synonymous with Seventies art-house controversy. On the odd occasion you see her appear there at all, she’s most likely clad in a tuxedo. Likewise, you feel the chit-chat of so much of the celebrity interview would be a bore to the woman awarded the title of Dame under France's Legion d'Honneur in 2002.

But when asked about ageing, as she inevitably is these days, she brings to the subject an intelligence that looks beyond the undeniable, but fleeting, beauty of youth. In The Look: Charlotte Rampling, the 2011 documentary by Angelina Maccarone, ‘Age’ is one of the topics the actor discusses with writer Paul Auster.

“You wake up and you are one day older. You get on with it, you cannot avoid reality,” she says in the film. “Nothing stays as it is, but when you talk about beauty fading, it becomes something else. If you have that sparkle behind the eyes, that stays.” Her sister Sarah, who died of suicide at 23, was beautiful, says Rampling, adding that she felt her own face was ‘strange’ and with eyes ‘heavy-lidded’.  But the camera continues to love her, and it’s that photogenic quality that led to her involvement in the Nars cosmetic campaign for the Audacious Lipstick range in 2014, age 68.
"Audacious? Moi?" Nars 2014 campaign

Francois Nars, for whom Rampling has long been a ‘muse’, shot the images featured in Vogue last spring.  Similarly, designer Marc Jacobs, who has an interest in what he calls ‘the imperfection of what’s real’, featured a near-naked Rampling in an edgy ad campaign for his 2004 and 2009 collections. Photographer Juergen Teller has also been a long-time collaborator with Rampling. He has said he eschews photo-correction or re-touching in his images, preferring reality to artifice.  When he wanted to photograph a female, post-menopausal nude, Rampling was his perfect model because, as she has also said, beauty is only skin deep, while attraction and desire are things impossible to get to the bottom of.

“Desire is within you. It’s a formidable tool. Some people keep it alive, on and on. It can be a feeling a person gives you. It may not always be sexual, it may be that you just want to be with them,” she says. In The Damned, she played at character 10 years older than her then 23. Age has fluidity, she suggests, again quoting director Visconti, who told her at that time, “You are any age. It’s all behind the eyes, it’s the soul.” 

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