Best Left Unsaid 

Will Charlotte Rampling's Oscar-nominated performance in 45 Years overcome her controversial remarks?

Rampling's performance has already filled her trophy shelf with Best Actress honors from the Boston Society of Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the (U.S.) National Society of Film Critics, the London Film Critics' Circle and the European Film Awards.

Sundance Films

Rampling's performance has already filled her trophy shelf with Best Actress honors from the Boston Society of Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the (U.S.) National Society of Film Critics, the London Film Critics' Circle and the European Film Awards.

If Charlotte Rampling wins this year's Best Actress Oscar, film historians will point to the final moment in 45 Years, when the camera slowly zooms to a tight close-up of her face. Around her, friends and family are celebrating a 45th wedding anniversary, and as party guests sway to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," Rampling has stopped dancing. What's more, she can't even move.

Without uttering a word, Rampling's expression reveals horror, disdain and resignation. The mistress of the icy stare since her film debut 50 years ago, Rampling captures all those emotions not by twisting her face into contortions, but by allowing the camera lens to penetrate her soul, revealing her character's worst fears.

It's a moment I still can't shake, nearly five months since first seeing 45 Years at its North American premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival.

Just prior to their Toronto appearance, Rampling and co-star Tom Courtenay picked up Best Actor and Actress prizes from the Berlin International Film Festival. Since then, Rampling has filled her trophy shelf with Best Actress honors from the Boston Society of Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the (U.S.) National Society of Film Critics, the London Film Critics' Circle and the European Film Awards.

A fashion icon of the swinging '60s, her film resume boasts amazing variety: Georgy Girl (1966); The Damned (1969); Farewell, My Lovely (1975); Stardust Memories (1980); and The Verdict (1982).

It was her performance in 1974's The Night Porter that caused more than its share of scandal—a wicked waltz in what would be Rampling's lifelong dance with controversy.

The Night Porter's sadomasochistic tale, and particularly Rampling's portrayal of a concentration camp survivor who engages in a kinky relationship with a former camp guard, was dubbed "romantic pornography" by The New York Times and "despicable" by Roger Ebert.

Nonetheless, the image of a topless Rampling in an SS cap, baggy pants and suspenders, has burned up the Internet since its invention. So it shouldn't have come as a terrible surprise when Rampling, asked to comment on the outcry over this year's Oscar nominees being all-Caucasian, said in a Jan. 22 French radio interview that the outcry was actually "racist against whites."

"One can never really know, but sometimes maybe black actors did not deserve to make the final list," Rampling told radio station Europe 1. "Do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?"

When the French interviewer reminded Rampling that black actors are a minority in Hollywood, she replied, "No comment."

Within hours of the broadcast, the Internet blew up. Matt Mueller, editor of Screen International, wrote that Rampling's remarks probably torpedoed her Oscar chances.

"Certainly these comments aren't going to help her cause," he wrote. "They will not go well with American Oscar voters at all."

Rampling has since tried to walk back her original remarks telling CBS News, "I regret that my comments could have been misinterpreted."

All of this is a nasty shame on two counts: First off, Rampling's original comments were nothing short of ignorant. An apology was necessary but instead of apologizing, Rampling put the responsibility on listeners for "misinterpreting" her remarks. Shame on her. Second, the controversy has cast a shadow across 45 Years, a superb film that is about to go wide to American audiences and open in Boise this coming week.

To that end, I'm torn. Rampling has now joined a short list of actors/directors/writers with whom I cannot separate art from the artist—Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Elia Kazan are on that list.

That said, I highly recommend that you see 45 Years. Rampling is magnificent and perhaps Oscar worthy. As for her personal fortunes? To borrow her phrase: no comment.

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45 Years
Rated R · 93 minutes · 2015
Official Site: www.45yearsfilm.com
Director: Andrew Haigh
Producer: Tristan Goligher
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, David Sibley, Sam Alexander, Richard Cunningham and Hannah Chalmers
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