Kate Moss: can she really be 40? French biopic explores endless career of model they call 'the twig'

Director Dominique Miceli says she was 'locked out by Moss machine' in preparing her unauthorised documentary 'Looking for Kate'

Vive la brindille! As Britain's most fashionable model prepares to celebrate her 40th birthday, the French are joining in the birthday celebrations of the girl they call "the twig".

Kate Moss, who has appeared on many a Gallic catwalk during a career that has spanned more than two decades, is the star of an "unauthorised" documentary that aims to explore the secret of her professional longevity.

Dominique Miceli, director of Looking for Kate, which is to be screened in France on Sunday, on the channel Paris Première, says she has long been fascinated by the supermodel.

"I wanted to know what the secret is. Why she inspires so many people, why she's a photographer's dream," Miceli told the Observer.

"She's not very tall, she's not a conventional beauty, but she is capable of inspiring artists. And after all these years she's still cool, she still has contracts and work, and she's still there in the top advertising campaigns."

The British Moss machine, however, closed ranks on the French director. Miceli sent a handwritten letter to Moss, who will turn 40 on16 January, but had no reply. She sent 65 requests for interviews to friends, colleagues and people who have worked with Moss, and had only 15 positive responses – and three of those cancelled at the last moment.

Friends and confidants of the supermodel have been similarly circumspect about this week's birthday celebrations, although Moss does have form when it comes to marking such occasions.

Her 21st was held at a notorious Los Angeles nightspot, the Viper Rooms, and was organised by her then boyfriend, Johnny Depp. Guests included Michael Hutchence and Jason Donovan – who later admitted passing out on the dance floor after taking too much cocaine.

At her 30th, held at Claridge's in London, guests dressed up as characters from F Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned, while for her 34th she had planned to party for 34 hours – but only lasted 18.

The documentary does at least include interviews with photographer Peter Lindbergh, French fashion designer Isabel Marant, Brice Compagnon, the casting director at Elle magazine, and British film director Mike Figgis, who filmed Moss in a series of Agent Provocateur adverts and for an exhibition called Kate and Other Women.

"To find out what's hiding behind the mask of the world's best-known women, you have to dig … with all the problems that brings: the silence of her friends, the threats from those close to her and a host of other such kindnesses … but perhaps that's the real secret of her success: the mystery. The whole world knows her without really knowing her," says the introduction to the film.

"As everyone knows there is maximum control of her image by her agent [Sarah Dukas], but this was something else," said Miceli.

"People warned me to be careful because, they said, she had a horde of lawyers, but my lawyer was fine about it all. I wanted to do something positive, but there were interviews blocked and called off at the last minute, and people told not to speak to me."

Even so, Miceli remains a fan. "I discovered by speaking to people that Kate Moss is liked because she is herself. She does what she wants and lives her life the way she wants. If she wants to smoke on the catwalk, she smokes on the catwalk. She has no limits.

"Also, she is capable of completely changing her image. A photographer knows he will not get the same image of Kate Moss today as another did yesterday or will tomorrow."

She added: "This is what made her so different from the other supermodels of the 1980s. They were superb but always looked the same, whereas every picture of Kate shows a different girl."

Miceli admits that she steered well clear of the numerous controversies that have peppered Moss's life and career, including her relationships with Depp and singer Pete Doherty, but did "very briefly" touch on the cocaine scandal.

Miceli says she did this "only because everyone said her career was finished after that, and in fact it made her even more successful. I didn't want to dig into the more touchy aspects. It wasn't my aim or my brief. It doesn't interest me."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Kim Willsher in Paris and Tess Reidy, for The Observer on Saturday 11th January 2014 16.40 Europe/London

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image: © Barbro Andersen