Three Generations of Women Stars at Rome Film Fest

Charlotte Rampling playing Alice Hunter in "The Eye of the Storm". Freeze frame of Clip from film.

Here are some thoughts on three generations of female stars that I had a chance to interview at the Rome Film Festival.

Actress Charlotte Rampling, age 65, is about a big a star as they get. She has been in dozens of films from “The Night Porter” to “The Verdict.” She has acted with Paul Newman and Dirk Bogarde and has been directed by Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet and Luchino Visconti. She was in Rome for the presentation of her latest film “The Eye of the Storm.”

In “The Eye of the Storm”, this gorgeous actress who seduced the world with her deep blue eyes and mysterious sexuality, agreed to play a dying woman 10 years older than her current age.

The film takes place in Sydney, Australia in the 1970s where a wealthy upper-class woman, Elizabeth Hunter (played by Charlotte Rampling), is on her deathbed. She is being cared for by two nurses, a housekeeper and her loyal, adoring lawyer. Her two children, Sir Basel (played by Geoffrey Rush), a struggling middle-aged actor in London, and Dorothy (played by Judy Davis), an uptight, rigid, divorced wife of a French prince, are called to her deathbed.

Elizabeth Hunter – even in the last days of her life– is a force to be reckoned with. With hilarious, vicious banter, the ailing Mrs. Hunter reduces her middle-age children to bumbling fools as they struggle to make sure they get her inheritance. (The “Eye of the Storm” won the Special Marc’Aurelio Jury Award at the Film Festival).

I had a brief one-on-one interview with Charlotte Rampling. She is petite, with piercing blue eyes and a lively sense of humor. During the interview I had to hold the boom microphone (one of those fuzzy microphones on a pole). Charlotte looked at me and said, “Do you really have to hold that?” I told her, “I hold the mike, I carry the tripod, I edit the video and pretty soon I will have to start using the camera too.” She let out a big, friendly guffaw and said, “in the end you’re going to be the only one with a job and everyone else is going to be running around without work.” She is right about that. The television business is moving rapidly towards one-man (or one-woman) video-journalists. Talk about multi-tasking!

But her comment that struck me the most came at her press conference. When asked about playing a woman ten years older than her actual age, she said “Age should not even come into your horizon. It might, because we are all vain, we are all narcissistic, we do not like to grow old. Who wants to grow old? Who wants to get lines? Who wants to look old? Who wants to not be young? But we can’t be…. So if you allow yourself that luxury to be old, to be maybe ugly, to be more unattractive, to be less desirable… If you allow yourself as an actor to be that, at certain times you will find that the rewards are extraordinary.”

Good for her!

Freeze frame from APTN interview with Kristin Scott Thomas. Video shot by Pietro De Cristofaro

The next star I got to interview was Kristin Scott Thomas. I have admired Kristin Scott Thomas, age 51, ever since I saw her in “The English Patient” as I admired Meryl Streep in “Out of Africa”. I think I have some romantic notion about these tough, striking women tramping around Africa in khakis (Deserts in Egypt, Savannah in Kenya) and seducing good-looking men (Ralph Fiennes, Robert Redford) with their story-telling abilities.

But Scott Thomas was at the film festival for a very different kind of film. She was there to present “La Femme Du Cinquieme” (The Woman in the Fifth) in which she plays a mysterious figure called Margit, a combination of muse, devil, and seductress.

The psycho drama tells the story of American writer Tom Ricks (played by Ethan Hawke) who goes to Paris to try and win back his wife and daughter. Things going terribly wrong and he finds himself working as a night guard in a suspicious underground bunker to earn a living. He lives in a down and out neighborhood amidst among some bizarre individuals. Tom meets Margit (played by Kirstin Scott Thomas) and they become lovers, meeting regularly at her apartment.

Margit steadily begins to assert a strange control over Tom pulling him away from his daughter and pushing him to dedicate himself to his art.

My interview with Kristin Scott Thomas was in a small, dark studio set up specially with bright lights. A few days earlier I interviewed Director Luc Besson in the same studio and found him to be friendly, thoughtful and chatty. Scott Thomas walked in and asked if there was a TV monitor so she could see how she looked. My cameraman said no, so she called out to her assistant to bring her a mirror and then she demanded a make-up artist to bring her some powder for her nose. Once she got her nose powdered, she seemed to be ready for the interview.

All this time I was sitting facing her in a chair, waiting patiently, holding my notebook, glancing over my prepared questions and feeling a bit awkward. When she finally appeared ready, I stuck out my hand and said, “Hello, I am Patricia Thomas from Associated Press Television “. She looked in my direction and said, “I am sorry, I can’t see you because of the bright lights.”

Whoa!! Slam-dunked. Was that really necessary?

So I started asking questions and she was perfect. Kristin Scott Thomas has a face with striking features, high cheekbones and forehead, and great big blue eyes. As she spoke she grasped her knees, batted her eyelashes and moved her head in a seductive and flirtatious manner. She was talking to the TV camera, not me, and she was great at it.

Because I am obsessed with the question of being a working mamma, and having read that she has three children, I asked her how she does it. She said, “It is very difficult for women to work and raise kids, and any woman in the world who has a job and has children has to know what I am talking about. She is torn all the time, I mean constantly.”

Yes, I can agree with her on that one. Wouldn’t hurt to be less of a snob though, and a little nicer with other working mammas.

For the rest of that day my cameraman, Pietro De Cristofaro, had to rub it in. Every time I asked him to do something –” Pietro, can you get a shot of…., Pietro, can we edit in this clip from the film….” he would respond, “I’m sorry, I can’t see you because of these bright lights.” Sigh.

Freeze frame of Zhang Ziyi during interview with APTN. Video shot by Federico Pucci

The final actress on my 3 woman list is Chinese super-star Zhang Ziyi.  Zhang Ziyi, age 32, has been in “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, to name just a few of her films”. She was at the festival to present her latest film, “A Love for Life,” a dramatic tale of AIDS in China in the 1990s.

Zhang Ziyi is breath-takingly beautiful. As she came towards me before the APTN interview, she emerged from her entourage (she had perhaps 10 people surrounding her: translators, make-up artists, press flacks) like some magical creature in a diaphanous brown dress with flowing open sleeves. She offered me a delicate hand with perfect chocolate-colored painted nails. She had silver bracelets on her upper arms and a gigantic jewelled butterfly necklace at her throat. She looked like a porcelain doll. But as soon as she began to speak, I realized she is more iron than porcelain.

Her movie is the first to address openly the issue of AIDS in China. At the beginning of the movie, an on-screen note gives some daunting information about AIDS in China, reading: “By the end of 2009, more than 33 million people were living with AIDS in the world, of which 740,000 were in China. The exact number of those who contracted the disease through selling blood or transfusions is unknown.”

During the interview Zhang Ziyi underlined how important this movie is for China. “For us I think that it is a big step forward…there’s a new attitude to the world,  we have opened a little bit, because we are facing this topic, we are facing this issue, and people are not hiding this anymore. That’s why for our director it took five years to do this movie, because during this process there’s a lot of difficulties, from anywhere. It’s not that easy, but we made it.”

Well done Zhang Ziyi. I admire your determination and talent.

All the above are just my personal thoughts and impressions of these women following very brief interviews. I do not regularly follow Entertainment stories or these individuals, so I could be wrong about all of them. My views are my own and not that of the AP.

4 thoughts on “Three Generations of Women Stars at Rome Film Fest”

  1. Pardon me, but I am having a bit of trouble typing because of the lights… stelle barbare! Only in Hollywood. But since I grew up in Holywood, as they say “I hear ya.” Sorry to hear that about Ms. ST, but so it goes. Isn’t Charlotte Rampling gorgeous in a old Hollywood sort of way? What a beauty. My thank you to you for the wonder trifecta of insights. And I know just what you are talking about with respect to TV work these days – here in L.A. we call it the “one man band.” My husband was a film editor for TV news for 43 years,and the biz he left is not the biz in which he started. Pity because everything suffers, the reportage, editing, and all involved. Would you agree?

    1. I totally agree with you and your husband. There is so much pressure on all of us in the TV news business to be able to do everything. I often think the interns who come through my office know how to do modern TV news better than I do. They can shoot video on their Iphones, put it out on Youtube in minutes, and tweet constantly about events. I feel like an old dinosaur, I like to read about events, prepare for interviews, develop contacts and write a thoughtful story. I would also rather work with a more experienced cameraperson who has an eye for telling a story, getting the right shot, and an instinct for being in the right place. I don’t know how much longer dinosaurs like me will survive though. In the past year AP Television has hired only video-journalists.

  2. Really inbteresting to have you share these personal glimpses of famous women. Good for Charlotte Rampling! Interesting too that she has a real reflective streak. Funny your namesake is the most aloof. Interesting that you met two leading Chinese actresses, Michele Yeo and Zhang Ziyi. Glad to know ZZ is iron not porclain.

    Keep up the great work. I’ll check with you before I next go to movies.

  3. Trish, did you take your revenge by telling the world that KS.Thomas is 51? And why asking any actress who longs to look like Garbo or Bacall ‘Must be very difficult to take your kids at school in the morning, and with all the make-up you need to set everything up!?’ I don’t really see KSThomas replying: ‘My God, don’t tell me signora mia, and the bus is never on time!’ Poor KSThomas: if she had the lights on her face, what could she do? She said the truth, isn’t it what you wished her to do? Let us leave the mythical women where they have to be, on their ivory tower, and let us keep at least some last dreams to dream of and on… Maybe when a nice friend tells us: “You need some rest, look at all the wrinkles you have this morning!” we can always learn from this outstanding British star: “I’m sorry, I’ve the sun over my eyes, I can’t see you…”

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