CHARLOTTE RAMPLING and Looks
by Felix Zwinzscher
The actual drama begins with that look, this realizing stare. She slowly turns her head. The corners of her mouth still slightly turned upward to form a polite smile. Her head tilted a little to the right. There is this prominent space between her eyes and her brows, that seems to lie heavy on her lids and is causing her expression to have this sombre sobriety even though she is smiling. This look is framed by two perfectly arched eyebrows.
Suddenly something happens. The glabella widens and pushes the eyebrows even further apart. Her lower eyelids drop and expose the whites of her eyes. The eyeballs seem rounder now, protruding from her skull. The outer corners of her eyes descending. Somehow gravity just seemed to have become stronger. Her expression changes from polite friendliness to outright fear.
All this happens within four seconds. Four seconds just facial expressions, just eyes. Theses eyes. These are the eyes of Charlotte Rampling. They unravel the whole tragic psychoanalytical study of Liliana Cavani's THE NIGHT PORTER (1974). Lucia (Rampling) looks across the room of a Viennese hotel and meets the eyes of her concentration camp torturer Max (Dirk Bogarde) who now works as the hotel's night porter.
The next 120 minutes Rampling's eyes resume this stare, that looks right through everybody with the intensity of a cornered animal: All out of options, scared but ready to fight to the death. Though less for reasons that one might expect. When there is no fear or anger in these eyes, then there is bewildered affection. Affection for a man who cruelly tormented her not too long ago as a German SS officer in a concentration camp. Charlotte Rampling has the ability to communicate this confusion and irrationality solely with her eyes. She barely talks throughout the film but she doesn't need to either.
Rampling tends to play damaged people, complicated characters in ambiguous situations and quite deliberately so. After her acting breakthrough in Silvio Narizzano's romantic comedy GEORGY GIRL (1966) Rampling left England for the continent, mainly for France. She didn't want to play any more sweetheart parts that would match these smokey eyes.
And indeed, from far away you can hardly see the whites in her eyes. It is all dark. These sad eyes, hidden under half closed lids, framed by elegantly curved brows that are set a little too high in her face. Her glance is sensual but never in a glossy, straight forward sexual way. Behind these eyes is always a troubled mind.
When she looks at you, she narrows her eyes until they appear to be mere slots in her head. Then she lowers her shin and she looks up at you, so that all you can see is her brows and lids and just a hint of these dark waters that are her eyes. That's how she met Paul Newman in Lumet's THE VERDICT. And he fell for her, the spy of a rival lawyer's office. It's unsettling.
She perfected this look over the years. And it still works. As Ellen, the 60 years old Rampling travels as a sex tourist to Haiti to be admired by 20 year-olds in Laurent Cantet's VERS LE SUD (2005). Now at 65 with her eyelids a little hooded the effect seems only stronger.
In our interview she says: "It's quite violent to be looked at". And indeed it is Mrs. Rampling...
Silvio Narizzano, Georgy Girl, 99 min., 1966.
Liliana Cavani, The Night Porter, 118 min., 1974.
Sidney Lumet, The Verdict, 129 min., 1982.
Laurent Cantet, Vers le Sud, 108 min., 2005.
Charlotte Rampling Interview with the BBC