French filmmaker Rodolphe Marconi's portrait of Karl Lagerfeld, the German-born designer who jump-started the moribund House of Chanel in the early 1980s, isn't an up-close and personal expose of the man behind the carefully cultivated persona. And perhaps it could never have been: The more Marconi tries to draw out Lagerfeld's secrets, the more it appears that Lagerfeld is a sphinx who has none.
Marconi spent two years with Lagerfeld, filming him as he sketched designs, prepped shows, photographed models, attended the ballet, went to nightclubs, shmoozed with wealthy couture clients and rubbed shoulders with glitterati like Nicole Kidman. Lagerfeld sat for a series of interviews about his life and was to all appearances frank and forthcoming, if disinclined to self-examination: After all, he observes, countless great civilizations flourished without psychoanalysis. There's something oddly endearing about Lagerfeld's acknowledgement that life dealt him a good hand: Born in 1933 (or perhaps 1938) and raised in Northern Germany, Lagerfeld recalls his childhood self as a show-offy little "Shirley Temple," pampered and indulged in a no-nonsense sort of way. He's imperious and witty, firing off his answers in rapid-fire French: His mother, he recalls, told him that homosexuality was of no more account than having brown hair rather than blond. She also advised little Karl at a tender age that if he was being targeted by child molesters of both sexes then he needed to reconsider the vibe he was giving off.
Lagerfeld went to Paris in the early 1950s with his mother and kicked around the world of haute couture for decades, working with such high-profile fashion names as Balmain, Chloe, Fendi, Charles Jourdain, Valentino, Krizia and Jean Patou. Lagerfeld achieved international stardom in the 1980s, after rising to the challenge of revitalizing the then-moribund house of Chanel. Lagerfeld's finest moments are when he's deflating Marconi's circumlocutions: When Marconi tiptoes around Lagerfeld's realization that he was homosexual, the designer cuts to the chase; when Marconi presses him to discuss his waning interest in sex, Lagerfeld sighs dramatically about Marconi's tediously literal imagination. But overall, Lagerfeld is glib rather than insightful; his love of art and literature feel shallow and studied, elegant mannerisms rather than authentic passions.
Comparisons to Douglas Keeve's Isaac Mizrahi documentary UNZIPPED (1995) are misguided: Under the gloss of fashionista glitter and glamour, Mizrahi is a chubby mensch, a scrapper born of pop-culture immersion and middle-class aspiration. Lagerfeld is a self-made aristocrat, the chilly total of his elegant but remote affectations.
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- Released: 2007
- Rating: NR
- Review: French filmmaker Rodolphe Marconi's portrait of Karl Lagerfeld, the German-born designer who jump-started the moribund House of Chanel in the early 1980s, isn't an up-close and personal expose of the man behind the carefully cultivated persona. And perhaps… (more)