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Charlotte Rampling at Cannes in May. (AP Images)

Charlotte Rampling, whose icy cool demeanor crossed with sexy hauteur has been heating up movie screens for five decades, is now the focus of The Look, a new documentary opening today (November 4).

In the film, the now 65-year-old British actress is seen being interviewed, in conversation with friends, and in clips from a smattering of her more than three dozen films. Reviewing the movie in the New York Times, critic Stephen Holden labeled it “fascinating and frustrating,” the latter because the film provides more of an illusion of intimacy than real insight into who Rampling is, where she comes from and what makes her tick.

No matter. The Look is likely a must-see for ardent Rampling fans, and who isn’t one? Holden neatly nails her femme fatale appeal when he writes, “Along with Jeanne Moreau and Isabelle Huppert, she is a screen personality whose smoldering characters project an imperial confidence tinged with disdain. Those catlike eyes, lowered in a seemingly seductive gaze in tandem with a Mona Lisa smirk, send the same danger signals associated with Ms. Rampling’s Hollywood prototype, Lauren Bacall.”

Rampling began her career as a model during the Swinging Sixties. She made her movie debut in 1965’s The Knack … And How to Get It, a standout comedy of the British New Wave film movement, appearing in an uncredited role as a water skier. A year later, she scored her breakout role as the amoral violinist who shared a flat with Lynn Redgrave in Georgy Girl.

Over the next four decades, she appeared in films that fell all over the map. There was the controversial The Night Porter (1974). Some of the movies were just plain bad, like 1974’s Zardoz, a cheesy sci-fi thriller featuring Sean Connery running around in a red diaper, or 1977’s Orca, about a killer whale. Then there were solid hits, like 1982’s The Verdict, a worthy legal drama co-starring Paul Newman.

She also turned up in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories (1980), fell in love with a chimpanzee in 1986’s Max Mon Amour, a French comedy, and bustled about in bustles in the prestigious period literary adaptations, The Wings of the Dove (1997) and The Cherry Orchard (1999).

With the coming of the new century, she really hit her stride with a series of intriguing performances in sophisticated dramas, several of them French. The first was director Francois Ozon’s 2000 film, Under the Sand, in which she played a woman who begins to psychologically disintegrate after her loving husband mysteriously disappears one day when they’re vacationing at the beach. She also worked with Ozon in 2005’s Swimming Pool (looking darn sleek in her maillot) and for fellow French director Laurent Cantet that same year in Heading South. In that film, she memorably portrayed an American professor who annually vacations in Haiti, where she sleeps with attractive, impoverished young local men.

Rampling, who was recognized with the Order of the British Empire in 2001, continues to pursue challenging roles, as evident by her latest film, Melancholia, which opens Nov. 11 in theaters but is already available on video on demand. In this dark drama by Danish bad boy director Lars von Trier, she plays an embittered, emotionally detached mother unable even to congratulate her own daughter (Kirsten Dunst) on her wedding day. “I, for one, hate marriages,” she announces by way of a toast to the newly married couple.

In real life, Rampling’s father, a NATO commander who in his younger days had brought home to England a silver medal won for running track at the 1932 Olympics and a gold medal for the 1936 Olympics, lived to be 100. If genes are destiny, there’s a good chance that the actress still has many, many amazing performances yet to come over the next three or four decades.


What’s your favorite Rampling movie?


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By Leah Rozen