Charlotte, Mon Amour
Roni Amelan, The Guardian 10 November 1993
Sixties wild child Charlotte Rampling talks to Roni Amelan about films and France.
ACTRESS Charlotte Rampling began her career at 16, when she was hauled from a London typing pool to model for a Cadbury advertisement and became part of the extravagant London ''scene''. Now 46, she left Britain 20 years ago as a tax exile for France, where she had lived as a child on an army posting. For the past 15 years she has lived outside Paris with her French husband Jean-Michel Jarre, the composer. She is at present working on a Franco-Austrian television film, The Radetzky March, in Prague.
By the 1970s Rampling had films such as The Damned by Luciano Visconti and Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter to her credit. She has worked with many leading directors, including Woody Allen (Stardust Memories) and Nagisa Oshima, in whose film Max My Love (1986) Rampling was romantically linked with an ape. She is an accomplished photographer, a serious amateur pianist and a collector of 1950s artefacts, including American cars.
Of which of your films are you particularly proud?
The Night Porter, The Damned and Stardust Memories, which wasn't a success when it came out, but has subsequently been acclaimed one of Allen's best. The reception of the Night Porter was quite vitriolic. France discovered it. United Artists decided to release it in one cinema in Paris to test the water. It became an overnight success and they suddenly realised they were on to something. It was launched in America as a sort of kinky sadomasochist romp. I went to America to publicise it and fled after two days, it was a nightmare. There were protests and it was just so slaggy.
That to me was not at all what the film was about.
Were you offended by criticism of Max My Love?
No, I like this sort of challenge. I never do anything unless I want to. I have been penniless sometimes and turned down lots of things, commercial crap. But of all the films I have done, there isn't one I am ashamed of.
Do the French and British media treat you differently?
The British got a bit bitchy for the first few years about tax exiles, and then they suddenly rather liked that I was a Parisian married to a Frenchman - this European creature doing avant garde films, not obeying showbiz rules. They like me to keep the vamp image. They don't like it when I make other films.
Are attitudes to sexuality different in France than in Britain?
It is not quite so base here. People like to keep some form of glamour. I think women are much more revered creatures in France than in Britain, socially.
Is this why the French are more complacent about female nudity?
French women with beautiful bodies don't mind showing them and it is not exploited here. It is always tasteful.
Is Eastern spirituality still important in your life?
Yes, because I am very highly strung. In my early 20s, I travelled a lot and went very deeply into Buddhism and yoga. We are not just material beings, there is that other side which I hope people at the end of the 20th century will realise is the only thing that is going to save us.
Would life have been very different if you had stayed in England?
I feel completely European and I don't think I'd feel that if I lived in England. I have a house in Chelsea and I go to England a lot. We bought the house a few years back because I was starting to feel homesick. My happiest time was when I had my own little flat in Chelsea, from about 16 until my sister died when I was about 21 [from a brain haemorrhage]. I broke all the rules
How do you find London now?
I like what's happening now that the 1980s are over. I feel freedom again. People don't have much money so they have to be inventive again.
Did living in France as a child affect you?
Enormously, I was steeped in French culture from 9 to 12. I went to a Catholic school with my sister without speaking a word of French and felt very isolated. I was completely silent for about six months. It was actually quite traumatic, but I got another culture for which I am very grateful. I now think and dream in French. But I like reading in English best, it touches me more.
Do you follow politics?
Yes, but I am apolitical, neither Right nor Left. There are very good things in both and I would like to see them more mixed up.
What about the French debate on immigration?
It is such a dicey subject, you have to be so careful. I mean, if you want the country to function, you just cannot open up the frontiers. But I haven't followed what they are doing in detail. It's a major problem throughout the world, the refugee problem, unemployment. . . I care terribly about what happens to the world.
What do you think about the way the European Community is developing?
On certain levels, high finance and economics, which I don't follow, I am sure it will be beneficial. But in terms of ethnic identity, culture and language, I cannot bear the idea of everyone merging and becoming the United States of Europe.
How do you feel when the French attack the British attitude on Europe?
It just makes me laugh. England is preserving all it wants to stand for and France is too. And absolutely right. Let them all fight and keep the things that are precious to them.
Were you among the French actors protesting against inclusion of film and television in the Gatt trade talks?
No, I couldn't go to the European Parliament. I think the French are right because countries will not be able to keep their cinematographic identity if they don't defend it. The French can't possibly make the sort of money the Americans make. But there are very fine French films, as there are in Spain and Germany and Italy. They must go on being made. Art is the mirror of the past; if you don't have, through the arts and culture, an identity in each country, future generations won't know what
Do you have French nationality?
No, I'm British, for ever.