French actress Maria Schneider died in Paris on Thursday (Feb. 3) after a long bout with cancer.
In the USA we know her from Last Tango in Paris because it was an English language film. It was a product of a niche genre from the '60s and '70s called Euro-American “arthouse” films. American actors and European actors alike starred in these films, which were usually directed by European directors, and were co-productions between France, Italy, the UK and the USA. Examples are Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris, 1972), René Clément (Wanted: Babysitter, 1975) and Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow-Up, 1966). These films were designed to promote European arthouse film with American entertainment packaging.
The young Maria Schneider adored arthouse films and said in an interview in Paris (2001): “I was a student and I wanted to be a painter and I studied Greek and Latin”… I wasn't planning to be an actress but was a cinephile and saw two, three, four movies a week and that was a great time for movies because you could see all the neorealism, you could see Bergman, Visconti, Antonioni.”
Schneider said she was taken under the wing of French actor Brigitte Bardot and lived with her for two years where she met producers and casting agents and began appearing in films. Her first [uncredited] role was in 1969 at the age of 17 in The Christmas Tree, directed by Terence Young and starring William Holden and Virna Lisi. Other Euro-American arthouse films she worked in include [uncredited] Les Femmes in 1969 directed by Jean Aurel starring Brigitte Bardot, The Love Mates directed by Roger Kahane starring Alain Delon and Hellé (1972) directed by Roger Vadim.
On "Last Tango," her first major role, Maria said:
"In fact, it's a total coincidence. I was close friends with Dominique Sanda. (The Conformist, 1970) She wanted to make the film with Jean-Louis Trintignant, but she was pregnant. She had a large picture with her of the two of us. Bertolucci saw it. He made me do a casting. I read the script, I did not immediately understand. I did not really want to do it and everyone told me: "C’mon, with Brando ..." I resisted until the last moment, because I had to make the film by Valerio Zurlini, with (Alain) Delon, called The Professor (1972) with dancer Sonia Petrovna. I regretted my choice since the beginning of my career would have been sweeter, quieter. For Tango, I was not prepared. People have identified with a character that was not me. Butter, about saucy old pigs ... I think it's a film that has aged, style, form and speech. It's a film typical of the '70s, dated, unlike the films of Antonioni, Rossellini, that do not wrinkle. Bertolucci's very smart, he followed the fashions. Even Marlon with his charisma and class, felt a bit violated, exploited a little in this film. He rejected it for years. And me, I felt it doubly. Marlon was extraordinary, sympathetic with the technicians and generous. Bertolucci, who was a Communist, worked for the people and was working fifteen hours a day. Marlon said: "There they stood, and so sandwiches for everyone," the Hollywood superstar that he was. There was a chemistry between us, a complicity. With other actors, the film would have been very different."
Last Tango in Paris (review by Movie Magazine International, San Francisco) did not fare well in the USA in the beginning. The police raided the cinemas and drove the audiences into the streets such as at a cinema house in Riverside where I attended one of the first screenings. Arthouse became associated with explicit sexual content in films like Bertolucci’s tale of a young 19-year-old woman who is picked up by a man old enough to be her father, grieving for his dead wife who committed suicide. The script written by Bertolucci is sadistic and demeaning, especially for the part written for the young Maria Schneider.This was something she realized later on in life that she would never escape and her fictitious character Jeanne became unfairly superimposed on her, something that was hard to shake. It was not “five minutes of fame” in a uneven cult film like "Last Tango" that Schneider was after. She reported that neither Bertolucci nor Brando respected her as an actor in that improvisational scenes were forced on her without having time to think them over.
If that is not enough, the media had a field day with the film’s excesses where Brando and Bertolucci emerged as champions and Schneider took the fall for their clumsy and mean-spirited artistry for women. Even the part where Jeanne (Schneider) shoots Paul (Brando) is flawed, for after all his sadistic behavior hurled over her, he suddenly seems to be over his grief and wants a relationship with her. "Why did she do it? After all he was (finally) warming up to her" -- was actually a common reaction in 1972 to her revenge. Years later, it would appear that Jeanne did the right thing and Paul has gone down in history as a mean slimeball. Bertolucci as maker must share that responsibility.
The Euro-American film provided other vehicles for Maria Schneider to show her real abilities.* French arthouse director René Clement made La Babysitter in 1975, three years after "Last Tango." The film in English is called Wanted: Babysitter (also Scarred). In this film Maria got to settle the score and show a part closer to her real self. She plays Michelle, a young sculptor who supports herself babysitting. In a twist of fate, she meets the young actor Ann (Sydne Rome) who is unhappily in love with the food mogul Cyrus Franklin (Carl Möhner). Ann is hit by a car and scarred for life, unable to take her clothes off in films, which thus ends her career. She decides to take revenge on her ex-lover and kidnap his young son Boots (John Whittington).
Michelle takes Ann into her home, and ironically supports a young actor, like herself in real life, that was exploited at a young age and who is commanded to continue doing parts that are demeaning or be thrown off the picture. Posing as Michelle , Ann sedates Boots and moves him to a deserted mansion where Michelle is given a false babysitting job for him. Vic, Boots' kidnapper (Vic Morrow), guards the place as part of a gang that exploits his father and sets up Michelle for the fall.
In this film Schneider plays a part where she has a nice boyfriend for a change, although a little fixated: Gianni (Renato Pozzetto) who supports her and relentlessly tries to find where she has been abducted. In every scene Schneider exudes gifted sensitivity and compassion. There is not a note of falseness to her performance. It takes a lot of work to get the young Boots to trust Michelle, since he believes she is the mean babysitter that sedated him. Michelle warmly develops a friendship with him and they work together to get rescued even though they are up against some very bad guys including Stuart Chase (Robert Vaughn), an actor that knows Anna. In the film Michelle is beaten and her hair cut with a knife. She constantly lives under the threat of being killed. During everyone moment of her capture she does not give up protecting the boy and displays courage and charisma. This was the brilliant work of Maria Schneider.
In 2001 Schneider spoke about how parts for women were becoming slim for her, and she no longer received central billing as the young actor where she often played roles simply called "The Girl." She was given minor roles up until her last picture in 2008. This is the well-known fate of women in film, with a shelf life of a ballerina. Men continue to get major roles well into their 80s with young women as their lovers and wives.
Forget "Last Tango." Maria Schneider made over 40 films. Many of these are French language pictures, but Schneider, who spoke excellent English, made quite a few that can be seen in the USA. While the media has a field day focusing on the breakthrough role of her career (Last Tango in Paris), it is also worth noting the expanse of her career with films such as The Passenger, opposite Jack Nicholson in 1975 directed by Antonioni , and Merry Go Round (1975) based on Reignen, a notable play by Arthur Schnitzler. Later roles include The Repentant directed by Laetitia Masson (2002), where Schneider plays the sister of Charlotte (Isabelle Adjani). Maria's last role was in Cliente (2008) by the noted French director Josiane Balasko.
Maria Schneider’s work includes many handpicked roles that reflect ambitious adventures in arthouse cinema. To this champion of better roles for women, we take adieu, and will continue to appreciate her as a vital and important French actor with the films she has left us, gone too soon.
*Note: Check Le Video San Francisco for English language films of Maria Schneider (The Passenger, Scarred, Last Tango in Paris, Merry Go Round, Au Pays des Juliet are in stock).Le Video does regular tributes to filmmakers, cast and crew who have recently passed away. They have the best arthouse film colllection in San Francisco.
The distinguished British actress of the stage and screen Susannah York died in England on January 15. York played in over 100 films and appeared on the stage. She was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her role as a marathon dancer in They Shoot Horses Don't They (1969) opposite Jane Fonda, which earned her a BAFTA as Best Supporting Actress in 1969.
Another memorable role York played was "Childie", the partner of the cigar smoking June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) in The Killing of Sister George (1969- review by Movie Magazine International San Francisco ). Sister George was a British TV soap featuring June Buckridge that was cancelled. Up until that point the relationship between June and "Childie" was balanced in favor of the dominating and jealous soap star who made her drink her bathwater, but when Childie's mean spirited partner lost her job, the predatory programmer for the BBC, Mrs. Croft (Coral Brown) seduced her. The film features a scene at the authentic lesbian nightclub The Gateways which was a favorite spot for singer Dusty Springfield.
At the Cannes Film Festival York was nominated for several acting awards in and out of competition and in 1972, she won the best actress award for her role in Images directed by Robert Altman. In 1991 she was decorated for "The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" (Order of Arts and Literature) in France for significant contributions to the arts.
Films of Susannah York can be found at Le Video in San Francisco, the best arthouse film rental service in the city.
Debra Granik'sWinter's Bone won the Bronze Horse for Best Film, the highest honor at the 21st Stockholm International Film Festival that ran November 17-28. It also won best film from the FIPRESCI jury, the Association of International Film Critics. The award to Granik was a refreshing nod in a festival which typically features hard boiled films with aestheticized violence by directors such as Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, 1992, Pulp Fiction, 1994), Gaspar Noe (Irréversible, 2001) and Giorgos Lanthimos(Dogtooth (2009). This year Michael Winterbottom's controversial The Killer Inside Me destined for home viewing qualified for the category. Maybe some fresh blood in programming will scrape off this veneer in coming festivals.
The Stockholm Film festival precedes the Göteborg Film Festival held in January, which is the largest film market in Scandinavia. Because the Stockholm fest runs in November, it is often a good festival to catch some of the harvest from the past year's Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian festivals.
In recent years the festival has been known to award work by women in film, every other year for the past six years. Granik is the fourth woman in the festival's two decades to win the Bronze Horse. Previous winners are Lucile Hadzihalilovic for Innocence (2004) Laurie Collyer for Sherrybaby (2006), and Courtney Hunt for Frozen River (2008).
Holly Hunterwas the head of the jury that selected Winter's Bone. Hunter remarked that it was "the most amazing honor to preside over the jury" when she was presented by festival director Git Sheynius at the outdoor screening in freezing weather of Nine Lives (2005) by Rodrigo Garcia. "The fact that its dark from 3 o'clock on is so romantic, and the fact that I was brought on by fire is a first for me", said Hunter to the audience gathered in the town square. She told the crowd that she had heard a lot of good things about the festival from directors such as the Coen brothers and had wanted to come to Stockholm for a long time.
The jury's motivation for the award to Winter's Bone: by unanimous decision, the jury surrendered to a world so fully described by the director and a protagonist's dilemma in a community seldom represented in America. Through her heroine, the director paints an original portrait of a matriarchy who, by turns, warns, punishes, and ultimately offers an unlikely deliverance. The story and performances worked together to realize an uncompromised vision.
The best actress award went to Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. The jury's motivation for the award: She contains multitudes. Hardened by an independence gained much too soon in life, this actress skillfully explores the unyielding territory patrolled by modern drugs, rudimentary survival, and an ironclad matriarchy. She is, by turns, both subtle and ferocious – and this actress made the powerful choice of always being guided by a wounded and overwhelming love.
Debra Granik was present during the festival at a special seminar entitled Found: Women Directors. The seminar was sponsored by WIFT (Women in Film and Television), Sweden. She was commended on making a film about ordinary female characters without resorting to the usual stereotypes. Granik said that the main actors were flown in but that most of the cast was from the Ozarks. She said that Jennifer Lawrence did a remarkable job.
One of the distinguishing hallmarks of the festival is the First Film Award given to a director who presents his or her first or second film. This year that award went to Phan Dang Di for Bi, Don't be Afraid. The film won best screenplay at this year's Cannes film festival.
Holly Hunter also presented the Visionary Award to Gus Van Sant along with actor Stellan Skarsgård on November 21. Swedish Actress Harriet Andersson, actress in several of Ingmar Bergman's films with a total of 92 film roles was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Other awards at the festival with 180 screenings from 50 countries; Best Screenplay David Michôd, Animal Kingdom; Best Actor George Pistereanu in If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle; Jameson Music Award Fred Avril, Magnus Börjesson and Six Drummers, Sound of Noise, Special Mention Ensemble Direction by Peter Mullan in Neds; Best Short Film Out of Loveby Birgitte Staermose; Short Film Special Mention Megaheavy by Fenar Ahmad. The 1 km film winner, Hugo Lilja, The Silver Audience Award: This is England ’86 by Shane Meadows and Waste Land by Lucy Walker.
When Sofia Coppola now turns to introspection about young men after a trilogy of films about young women (Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette) her efforts have paid off with amazing success. Tonight she received the 67th Venice International Film Festival's highest award: the Leon d'Oro - Golden Lion for her film Somewhere.
The film stars Stephen Dorff as Johnny Marco, an errant film director whose life changes for the better when his teenage daughter Cleo, Elle Fanning , appears on the scene from a broken marriage.
Somewhere is a poignant yet slow to boil narrative, with the kind of film time and space that is typical for Coppola. This means a subtle yet direct language ripe with images and dialogue that cause reflection. The Oscar winning directer was present at the awards ceremony in Venice along with Dorff and Fanning.
Father Francis Ford Coppola encouraged Sofia to make this film, because it was a story she felt compelled to tell. Somewhere takes place in LA and Milan in a hotel environment that the young Coppola was used to when traveling with her famous father.
Elle Fanning plays her character brilliantly with patience and presence. Cleo helps Johhny Marco come to terms with his empty personal life of loose relationships and drugs. Dorff is excellent as a director that finally comes to terms with the shallowness of his life.
List of Official Awards from the 67th Venice Film Festival "VENEZIA 67
The Venezia 67 Jury, chaired by Quentin Tarantino and comprised of Guillermo Arriaga, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Arnaud Desplechin, Danny Elfman, Luca Guadagnino, Gabriele Salvatores, having viewed all twenty-four films in competition, has decided as follows:
GOLDEN LION for Best Film: SOMEWHERE by Sofia COPPOLA (USA)
SILVER LION for Best Director to: Álex de la Iglesia for the film BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE to: ESSENTIAL KILLING by Jerzy SKOLIMOWSKI
(Poland, Norway, Hungary, Ireland)
COPPA VOLPI for Best Actor: Vincent GALLO
in the film ESSENTIAL KILLING by Jerzy SKOLIMOWSKI
(Poland, Norway, Hungary, Ireland)
COPPA VOLPI for Best Actress: Ariane LABED
in the film ATTENBERG by Athina Rachel TSANGARI (Greece) MARCELLO MASTROIANNI AWARD for Best Young Actor or Actress: Mila KUNIS
in the film BLACK SWAN by Darren ARONOFSKY (USA)
OSELLA for Best Cinematography to: MIKHAIL KRICHMAN
for the film SILENT SOULS (OVSYANKI) by Aleksei FEDORCHENKO (Russia)
OSELLA for Best Screenplay to: Álex de la Iglesia
for the film BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA by Álex de la Iglesia
SPECIAL LION FOR AN OVERALL WORK to: Monte HELLMAN LION OF THE FUTURE – “LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS” VENICE AWARD FOR A DEBUT FILM
Lion of the Future – “Luigi De Laurentiis” Venice Award for a Debut Film Jury at the 67th Venice Film Festival, comprised of Fatih Akin (President), Nina Lath Gupta, Stanley Kwan, Samuel Maoz, Jasmine Trinca, has unanimously decided to award: COGUNLUK (MAJORITY) by Seren YÜCE (Turkey) – VENICE DAYS"
Michelle Williams as Emily Tetherow is the middle ground behind Meek's Cutoff. The film directed by Kelly Reichardt is part of the official competition at the 67th Venice International Film Festival. It is about three covered wagons with settlers trying to make it across the rough in Oregon, in what was later to be called "Meek’s Cutoff".
Numerous shots position the wagons and the bonneted women, and the landscape for a good part of the introduction to the film. But when Emily spots "The Cayuse" (Rod Rondeaux), a Native American, while gathering firewood the settlers go after him and tie him up.
Eventually Emily gets into a firepower standoff with Steven Meek (Bruce Greenwood) about whether or not to allow the captive to live and lead the settlers to water. Meek has been obstinate about the course the settlers should take and is a bossy bigot. His view of men as forces of destruction and women as chaos doesn’t really fit with what Emily understands is a question of survival for men and women alike. The settlers are tired, hungry and in need of water. She knows only "The Cayuse" can lead them to it.
There is plenty of room for contemplation in this film, which is why it was chosen to compete for the Golden Lion, which will be awarded on September 11.
Swedish actor/director Pernilla August presented her film Beyond at International Critics Week at the 67th Venice Film Festival today, and received the longest and warmest standing ovation I've encountered at this festival. The film is based on a novel by the Finnish author Susanna Alakoski entitled Svinalängorna. The Swedish title, virtually unsuitable abroad to nameplate this film is an expression used for housing areas with primarily immigrants. The housing areas in Ystad in Southern Sweden composed primarily of Finnish immigrants were referred to as "pigsties".
The story is about a Finnish couple whose relationship is troubled due to alcoholism. They have some of the lowest paid jobs in Sweden and the father drinks and beats his wife when intoxicated. Their young children stand by defenseless trying to survive. Finnish actors Ville Virtanen and Outi Mäenpää play Kimmo and Aili. They have worked together for 20 years according to Mäenpää but never played a couple. Their closeness shows in a skillful and authentic collaboration.
Young Leena (Tehilla Blad) takes care of her younger brother Sakari (Junior Blad) and tries to also take care of her parents. The film critically looks at adult children of alcoholics with insights into how such a childhood leaves emotional wounds that take time to heal.The adult Leena is played by Noomi Rapace and Tehilla Blad and her were both featured in the Millennium Trilogy based on the novels by the late Stieg Larsson as the younger and olderLisbeth Salander.
A first for Noomi Rapace is the opportunity to play opposite her real life husband Ola Rapace (Johan) who is a supportive spouse during Leena's trip back to visit her dying mother in a hospital with their two young children. This is not an easy role for either the young or the older Leena and the authenticity of these two actors' performances is astonishing. Such roles require precision, waiting, feeling, and even closing down and disassociating from reality. This is hard to do on film, but its done by these talented actors.
The cinematography and editing of the film provide an introspection that brings the harsh reality of this family close to the spectator. Sometimes too close, which is why the emotional impact of the film hits the audience in a profound way. There was no wild applause afterwards, but warm and genuine response as the actors stood to take their bows. They then were lead to the stage to take some questions from Italian film critics about the content of the film and the roles each of the main actors played.
Pernilla August pulled this extraordinary drama together and perhaps having worked so close with Ingmar Bergman had an impact on the strength of the work, for the late Swedish auteur is known for revealing complex and soul searching emotional details. Beyond is very much such an introspection, but done in a contemporary cinematic style that is visceral and demanding. The focus on female psychology is modern, and it clearly is Pernilla August we learn about as director, despite her influences. Nothing is created in a vacuum and the life experience and steady hand and warm heart of August shines through brilliantly in her directorial signature.
August said that the cast and crew came to the stage as "scientists" and went to work, illuminating their characters. The process has created a masterly film and should be a front runner for awards around the world and especially during International Critics Week in Venice.
We are waiting for the film to come to San Francisco.