From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Rampling has often performed controversial roles. In 1969, in Luchino Visconti's The Damned (La Caduta degli dei), she played a young wife sent to a concentration camp. This role redrew Rampling entirely as mysterious, tragic, even sinister. "The Look" as co-star Dirk Bogarde called it, became her trademark. In 1974's The Night Porter she portrayed a former concentration camp inmate entangled in a sado-masochistic relationship with her former guard, played by Bogarde. Rampling's 2005 film at age 59 was Laurent Cantet's Heading South (Vers le Sud), a film about female sex tourism. She plays Ellen, a professor of French literature and single Englishwoman, who holidays in 1970s Haiti to get the sexual attention she does not get at home. On her choice of roles, Rampling says, "I generally don't make films to entertain people. I choose the parts that challenge me to break through my own barriers. A need to devour, punish, humiliate, or surrender seems to be a primal part of human nature, and it's certainly a big part of sex. To discover what normal means, you have to surf a tide of weirdness."
Other roles embody a personal twist: The character she played in François Ozon's Swimming Pool (2003), Sarah Morton, was named after her oldest sister, Sarah, who after giving birth committed suicide at age 23. For most of Rampling's life she would say only that her sister had died of a brain hemorrhage; when she and her father heard the news, they agreed they would never let Charlotte's mother know the truth. They kept their secret until Rampling's mother died in 2001.