Anyone who's seen Charlotte Rampling in films like 45 Years, Sous le sable and Hannah, might expect the actress to be as serious and sombre in real life. Quite the opposite is true, as the Big Talk with Rampling at the Hilton made clear.
At 71, the screen legend is as sharp and witty as ever. Rampling got her first laughs during the 90-minute interview when moderator Floortje Smit remarked that Hannah hadn’t been screened at the festival yet, so most of the audience wouldn’t have seen it. “Probably just as well”, Rampling said dryly. “You might not have come.”
Nonsense of course, although it’s true that Hannah, which has been described as ‘an exquisite exercise in slow cinema’, is not a light-weight feel-good film. Rampling gives an impressive performance as a woman whose husband goes to jail, for a crime bad enough for their son to cut off all contact. The movie isn't about the crime though, it's about Hannah's response to her new situation.
“Hannah is a film about how you get through a state of being which shocks you so much that you almost become unable to actually function”, Rampling said. “And then you emerge into a form of denial, but you carry on.”
The rigorously minimalistic style of the film is like “a moving art installation”, she said, praising director Andrea Pallaoro. “This kind of cinema has fascinated me ever since I met Luchino Visconti in the late sixties and made a film called The Damned. I couldn’t believe that there could be such extraordinarily magical beauty in other ways of making films. His was a very operatic and grandiose way, but it didn’t feel to me to be about entertainment. It felt about states of being. I’d never seen films like that and realised this was what I wanted – to make films that put people into a different state of consciousness.”
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“You just have to keep going out there and into the gueule-de-loup, the lion’s mouth.” – Charlotte Rampling
In Hannah, Rampling is at the centre of every scene. Wasn’t it a great weight on her shoulders, Smit wanted to know, to have to carry the entire film? “Erm, no”, Rampling answered. Wasn’t it terrifying, Smit insisted? “Most things terrify me, to be honest”, Rampling admitted. “But you just have to keep going out there and into the gueule-de-loup, the lion’s mouth.”
The conversation turned to 45 Years, which earned Rampling an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She agreed with Smit that her part, as a wife who learns a long-kept secret of her husband’s that threatens their marriage, is another character study. “That’s what I need”, Rampling said. “I need to be able to study characters through film. That’s what I do. And when I’m doing it, that’s when I’m happiest – almost like a trained horse, I know that I can jump higher than anybody.”
Discussing her long career, including the controversial The Night Porter which earned her the nickname ‘the kinky queen’, Rampling says she has always gone contre courant, against the current. “That’s my nature. I understand why people would want to see films that are easier, where you don’t really have to try too hard and won’t be challenged. And that’s fine. But there’s a place for the kinds of films we’re making as well. That’s why this festival is so great.”
Asked if she knows why she likes going against the current, Rampling simply said she doesn’t. “I work completely by instinct. And I have a very good instinct. It’s always done me well.”
During the Big Talk, there were a few subjects Rampling was reluctant to talk about. Like actresses using Botox (“I don’t do that”) or the supposed bravery of taking your clothes off in front of the camera: “Where’s the bravery in that? I do not understand that. I mean, I do, but I’m not gonna even go there.”
Photo in header: Photo: Charlotte Rampling | Interview: Sietse Meijer