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The magnetic gaze of Charlotte Rampling

The magnetic gaze of Charlotte Rampling

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© Xavier Lambours/ Signatures

The magnetic gaze of Charlotte Rampling

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© Courtesy of I, Anna 2012. Photographer Kerry Brown.
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Maybe it is better to start from it. From that magnetic gaze which entered collective imagination like a few other stars such as Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo. About Charlotte Rampling a great sage of the cinema (Luchino Visconti) was right.

The year is 1969, the Italian director is shooting La caduta degli dei. A very young Rampling plays the role of Elisabeth Thallman in spite of the evident difference of age between her and the character, but Visconti calms her down: what is worthwhile hides behind the eyes, and behind your eyes every age is hidden. And maybe this is really the secret of a chamaleon talent which escorted the British actress in her several movie seasons.

Faithful to herself and to her provocant eyes, but always ready to amaze from her very first entrance on the stage. Her debut, in fact, already represents the story of a manifest of a generation. It is 1965 and Richard Lester's movie The Knack ...and How to Get It wins the Golden Palm in Cannes.

She is the irresistible and uninhibited girl who gives body and sensuality to the Swinging London or, as it is said, the most photographed girl in England. A beauty which keeps its force in the penumbra and in the ambiguous spaces along a tangent where erotism and coldness, harshness and softness meet together. She shows immediately her qualities also when she moves to Italy and starts to work with Luchino Visconti.

In 1974, always in Italy, Liliana Cavani proposes her a bet which seems (metaphorically) to go beyond a hedge full of thorns. It is possible to maintain the same erotic charge in the cruelest and most brutal place of the last century? Thanks to Charlotte Rampling's performance, The Night Porter - which was considered scandalous at the time - becomes a cornerstone of the cinema history.

In the role of Lucia she avoids the Nazi extermination living a sadomasochistic relationship with her Nazi prison guard inside a concentration camp. And it is on the wake of this relationship victim-torturer that the myth is born and grows up confirming the statute of a Rampling as a noir sex-symbol. Her silhouette with naked breast, braces, handgloves and a SS officer hat while she sings the song of a perturbing Dietrich becomes emblem and matrix for her future characters.

These roles often keep an androgynous balance between a composure which is tidy, but never reassuring. Whether she plays at the side of Fred Astaire and Philippe Noiret in Un taxi mauve or she is directed by Woody Allen in Stardust Memories (1980) or she works with James Mason and Paul Newman in The Verdict (1982). However, 1986 is the year of another unexpected choice made by Rampling.

We are talking about Nagisa Oshima's Max, mon amour where she lives the grotesque arc of falling in love with a chimpanzee. Once again she shows her vocation to avoid the shortcuts represented by easy roles which give access to glamour covers preferring to address to effervescent and atypical directors.

It is impossible to list in a single article the versatile gallery of female characters played by her, also because Charlotte Rampling has continued to be the favourite muse of the new generation of French authors. From François Ozon to Laurent Cantet or, talking about movie scenes, from the comfortable woman who removes her husband's disappearing (Sous le sable) to the troubled writer in Swimming pool and a sexual tourist (Vers le sud). An enigmatic woman whose appeal challenges time because she has always been able to use time to make it part of the story.

Lorenzo Buccella
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