“Mademoiselle C” is a documentary about a fashion power player that probes as deeply as the cover of a couture-centric glossy. It’s an air-kiss of a movie, one that places a non-contact peck on either side of its subject’s mouth, then breezes off before a serious conversation can begin.
That subject is Carine Roitfeld, the former editor of French Vogue, onetime muse to designer Tom Ford and a woman who, as this film frequently demonstrates, has friends in exceptionally glamorous places. When Roitfeld attends the 2012 Met Ball, she sits at a table with Beyoncé and James Franco. When she goes to a Tokyo launch party for a book she co-authored with style icon Karl Lagerfeld, she chitchats with Sarah Jessica Parker. And when her newborn granddaughter needs some attention during a workplace visit, it’s Lagerfeld, looking like a well-dressed Dracula as a stay-at-home dad, who briefly gives the wee one’s stroller a little push.
While this movie is generous with its celebrity cameo appearances, “Mademoiselle C” aims to focus less on who Roitfeld knows and more on who she is circa 2012, when, following her Vogue departure, she set out to launch an artistically ambitious new magazine called CR Fashion Book. But exactly who she is never becomes clear, and that’s the problem. Director Fabien Constant, making his feature-length theatrical debut, spends months shadowing his protagonist through staff meetings, interview sessions and oddly compelling photo shoots starring Kate Upton, hot guys wearing bear suits and live donkeys. But he’s so busy flitting from one moment to the next that he never slows down long enough to tell her story.
Constant builds the film around the launch of CR Fashion Book, a narrative structure that should provide a sense of urgency and raised stakes but doesn’t. Even when issues arise — including a conflict with Roitfeld’s former Condé Nast bosses, who allegedly pressure some photographers not to work on her new venture — those issues are mentioned quickly, then dismissed.
At one point, the svelte stylist does show some vulnerability while speaking about the recent birth of her aforementioned first granddaughter. “If my grandchild loves me as much as my daughter loved my mom — see, I’m tearing up — then I will have won,” Roitfeld says in French, as translated to English via subtitles. “You’re going to make me cry. It’s still very emotional for me,” she adds, her voice wavering. But before that emotion can take the film somewhere surprising, she recovers, and then it’s off to the next discussion of Fashion Book’s layout, followed by a glimpse at the planning behind an amfAR fashion show at the Cannes Film Festival. That’s how life is, isn’t it? Just when we’re about to get real, a fashion show always gets in the way.
While some of the “behind the scenes” footage in this movie pops with a gauzy allure, “Mademoiselle C” ultimately fails as a documentary because it doesn’t enlighten its audience. Anyone who is unfamiliar with Roitfeld’s work will gain only a vague understanding of its significance from watching this, while those familiar with the Parisian’s punk-chic aesthetic will leave the film still yearning for substantive insight into her creative process.
“There’s so much dignity in dance,” Roitfeld says during one scene that captures her during a ballet workout. “That’s what I like. Never show it hurts.”
That perfectly describes Mademoiselle C’s shortcomings. It’s a documentary that’s never brave enough to depict any sense of struggle.
Chaney is a freelance writer.
Unrated. At Angelika Mosaic. Contains some nudity and occasional profanity. In French and English with English subtitles. 93 minutes.