Flashy, dazzling if never quite penetrating, Lagerfeld Confidential, French film-maker Rodolphe Marconi's impressionistic documentary of fashion artist, costume designer and photographer Karl Lagerfeld, provides a relatively unvarnished examination of his reptilian charm, talent and considerable genius for promotion.
The movie does a reasonable job of matching the implications of the title. It also tweaks the line of editorial independence and appears closer to self-portrait than harsh analysis. 'Can I come in'' is the opening lines spoken by filmmaker Marconi, and the underlying subtext is the filmmaker constantly seeking the subject's approval.
At the same time the film exerts an undeniable fascination that suggests a tantalizing synthesis of Bruce Weber's study of Chet Baker, Let's Get Lost and Unzipped, Douglas Keeve's portrait of Isaac Mizrahi. Paris-based Films Distribution is the international sales agent, and the film should play well in the leading fashion centres such as Paris, New York and Milan. The frequent appearance of Nicole Kidman is a strong marketing hook.
The only potential commercial downside is that most of the film is in English-subtitled French, and some fashion enthusiasts might think the project has been usurped by the popular 2005 French reality series, Signe Chanel, that was broadcast on the Sundance Channel. Home video should be potent in US and France.
Like Weber's Chet Baker film, Marconi positions Lagerfeld as a fetish object writ large. From the opening images of Lagerfeld rummaging through his vast Paris apartment, impeccably dressed, outlined by that shock of silvery white hair pulled back in a fashionable ponytail, the subject is shown in a constant state of activity, a nexus of power, money, celebrity and sex.
Marconi shot the film on digital video and Super 8, and the mobile, lightweight equipment allows for some jolting immediacy, like a shot that begins and ends inside the cockpit of Lagerfeld's private jet. At moments of limited natural light, the imagery tends to be flat and unreadable in the darkness.
The multilingual action shifts fluidly between Paris, the French countryside and New York. Lagerfeld is constantly working, restless. 'I have no roots,' he says. He is shown in his multiple capacities of photographer, designer (jotting down a quick sketch), sensualist and aesthete. He is unflinching in his matter of fact directness, his questionable treatment of collaborators. He is funny when necessary. 'I revived a dead woman,' he says about taking over the Chanel account in 1983.
He offers enough biographical detail, particularly the influence of his Germany mother, though the omitting or eliding of details is somewhat problematic. (The film never addresses the fact Lagerfeld was ostensibly born an aristocrat, his father a wealthy Swiss industrialist.) It underlines the bigger problem.
Lagerfeld Confidential is fun and engaging, though the total absence of outside voices or critical edge suggests the worst kind of collusion whereby Lagerfeld submitted himself to the camera in exchange for controlling the tone, style and nature of the piece. It needs the wildness, the impudence, of independence.