Mademoiselle C is so formless and banal that it’ll only appeal to those already obsessed with and privy to the glammy, kissy-kissy world of high fashion.
A documentary portrait of a fashion “goddess” whose most vivacious and interesting golden days are behind her, Mademoiselle C is so formless and banal that it’ll only appeal to those already obsessed with and privy to the glammy, kissy-kissy world of high fashion, leaving the uninitiated feeling as clueless, alienated, and apathetic as ever.
After resigning from her role as editor-in-chief at French Vogue in 2011 (where she reigned as fashion empress for a decade), 58-year-old Carine Roitfeld chose to pursue a brand new endeavor: launching a New York-based fashion magazine called CR Fashion Book. The film chronicles the process of Roitfeld and her assistants getting the risky project up and running, and though some of her former colleagues disapprove and even attempt to stifle her new venture, don’t expect an uplifting or even amusing story of triumph over adversity here; the film is painfully devoid of drama, mostly due to Roitfeld’s complete lack of vulnerability and candidness, and her general blasé temperament.
Roitfeld always seems to be too occupied with conveying her calm, elegant, glamorous Parisian mystique onscreen (although I’m sure the veneer’s up constantly) to truly open up to the camera and get her hands dirty. She’s holding back, and it feels like having one of those boring, surface-level conversations you might stumble into at a Hollywood cocktail party. With all of the amazing things she’s done and people she’s met in her life, she must–MUST–be a more interesting person than the passive character we see onscreen.
Roitfeld and her wide assortment of famous admirers–Kanye West, Donatella Versace, Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, to name a few–speak excitedly and lovingly of the Roitfeld of the ’90s, when she was the embodiment of Ford’s Gucci fashion movement dubbed “porno-chic” by the public (Roitfeld prefers “erotic-chic”). From what I can gather, she used to be “punk rock”–edgy and defiant with her established black leather aesthetic and provocative, sexually-charged image. I would’ve loved to see a documentary about this girl, but we’re instead left with a profile of a woman who, while undeniably beautiful, cool, and enviably classy, has lost her kick.
When the film’s at its best, we see a glimmer of down-to-earth sensitivity from Roitfeld: Her daughter Julia has just gifted her with a granddaughter, and Roitfeld confesses that if she can get the newborn to eventually love her as much as Julia loved her grandmother, she’ll be a happy woman. She’s even so inspired by her granddaughter that she decides to put a baby on the cover of the magazine’s debut issue.
When Mademoiselle C is at its worst, it’s a hollow mess of celebrity obsession that has little to no cinematic value. In a terrible segment, grainy footage yanked straight from Roitfeld’s cell phone shows her sitting at a table with James Franco, Beyonce, and Tom Brady at a fashion party, schmoozing and giggling the phone shakes in her hands.
Director Fabien Constant (great name) spends far, far, far too much time lingering on footage of photo shoots and fashion parties, and seems uninterested in probing his subject’s psyche on any significant level. We see Roitfeld conduct some of the most bizarre photo shoots you’ll see: Famous Photographer Bruce Weber dresses a little girl up in princess attire while holding a baby (who pees all over the poor girl), and in the weirdest setup, Kate Upton, dressed up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, stands next to a male model dressed as a cow.
Roitfelds angelic, whimsical style of photos she fills her magazine with are truly beautiful, evoking a romantic, eerie sense of gothic tragedy and otherworldliness, but looking at the end product is infinitely more interesting than watching the process, a bunch of people stand around as a model gets feathers blown in her face. However, some candid moments Constant captures are great–seeing the vampiric Lagerfeld awkwardly pushing a baby carriage is absolutely hilarious, and other small, cheeky bits like this are the most entertaining morsels in the film. (When interviewed, Roitfeld’s son oddly describes his mother as a MILF. I’ve not yet concluded whether this is funny or disturbing or both).
Constant has resigned from constructing anything resembling a narrative arc with Mademoiselle C. It’s so anecdotal that it feels like a music video highlight reel of the lives of fashion moguls. Roitfeld’s peers respect her for a reason–she’s one of the most influential and enigmatic figures in the fashion world and has accomplished more than most could in two lifetimes. I came into the film openhearted, hoping Constant would give me a revealing closer look into one of the sharpest, most ingenious minds in fashion, but I’m left feeling just as distant from “Mademoiselle C” and her lavish, exclusive world of fashion as ever.