Maria Schneider: Forget Last Tango.

Autoportrait: Maria Schneider

Maria Schneider - Belle et Rebelle
What had become of her?
We left her, a child in the arms of handsome Marlon. In a role too overwhelming for her and she would not return unscathed. Descent into hell. Solitude. Chaotic career. With the sole bastion of  acute lucidity of the mediocrities in the world. We find her today more beautiful than ever. Funny. Insolent. A little bruised. Waiting for a role of good measure, and we would be proud. We love her very much. Portrait.

A Precocious Rebel
"I wanted to paint, and I studied Latin and Greek. I was a good student, I wanted to make excavations and illustration for children's books, because it is an artistic craft. My mother was a librarian. I was living with her. Then there was May 68 and while my brother became bourgeois, a physician, and demonstrated with red flags, I cried because I could not study. I had quite a violent conflict with my mother, so I left home at fifteen and a half. I earned my living by selling drawings and illustrations for restaurant menus. I have also been a young model for jeans.
I was a cinephile. I went to see many films, like those of Italian neorealism. In 1969, while making the rounds I met  Brigitte Bardot at a film by Jean Aurel, Les Femmes. She took a liking to me. I told her that I lived alone. As if Brigitte was not nice to animals and stray dogs! She knew my father, Daniel Gélin, who was an actor and who I did not know. She offered me a converted maid's room in her home in Paris, and I stayed two years. That's how I started in the trade. I met her agent who told me with his Yugoslavian accent: "You should make movies with the physique you have." I was fascinated by the personality of Brigitte Bardot, who was thirty-three years and was a dazzling beauty. She was already very clear about her work  and began to want to quit. She taught me things that I subsequently was able to verify. I met Warren Beatty, Alain Delon, who made me do Madly (1970). After I did some little things like La Vieille Fille (1971), by Jean Pierre Blanc, with Annie Girardot and Philippe Noiret.

Last Tango ... first major role 
In fact, it's a total coincidence. I was friends with Dominique Sanda. She would make the film with Jean-Louis Trintignant, but she was pregnant. She had a large picture with her of both 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 a film by Valerio Zurlini, with Delon,  called The Professor, with the 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, had the people with him and was working fifteen hours a day. Marlon said: "There they are - 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.

The 70s and the Sexual revolution
Last Tango is the And God Created Woman (Vadim, 1956) of the 70s. But I'll tell you a secret, it's a scoop that I found in Italy but not in France. In the original script of Tango, my role would be played by a boy, which obviously changes everything. They did not dare. Marlon always told me: "But you have more character than a boy! "[Laughs] It's still the first draft that would have broken taboos. The film, as it was filmed, was banned in Italy by a group of Catholics in Spain under the Franco regime. As in Lolita (Kubrick, 1962) the age difference is also a real taboo. Marlon me twenty and fifty years. In retrospect, this film is harder in the dialogue of the picture - since we have seen much worse - in the perversity of the text and the screenplay by Franco Arcalli, which rotates around zoophilia, pigs and all that ... There is also a deadly side, and I must say that the murder in the end of the film did me much good.

The True Nature of an Actress
I learned on the field, because I have not taken lessons.
I was just at the Actors Studio, but I did not like it. I do not like drama. I go to the opera, but the theater is boring. There are very few actors who say that. For me, cinema is closer to  painting, and I like working with filmmakers who have a sense of the image. I like the idea that cinema remains a memory of our time,  and when filmed, that there is a trace of it. Then I met Antonioni, who is closer to what I am in life. He chose not to sell his soul, and many actors also abstain . After the Bertolucci film, I had golden bridges to sub-Tango, roles of sex symbols ... I ended it very quickly. I also had problems because they said: "She does not want to undress, she will not do the love scenes ..." That's what we always ask young women, even in 2001, it has not changed one iota, however. I'm still shocked about the fact that men of sixty years, Serrault, Poiret, Noiret, have a continuous career, compared to women the same age. Even Girardot. Between the sex symbol and grandma, there are no other interesting roles. I'm  a part of an association for those involved in difficulty called “La Roue Tourne “ which has existed since 1956. I'm just their ambassador. The president is eighty years old and she helps those she calls "disasters of glory." The actors have no unemployment insurance and when they have an accident they are not covered by social security. It's incredible when you consider that this association has paid the rent for Marcel Carné in the last ten years of his life ... but also that of Abel Gance. The state did nothing. Me, I also see a time when I will have difficulty working. The president said: "But, my dear Maria, it has always existed, now you're old, you are forty ! She has known actresses of the silent era, like Jacqueline Delubac. All this has not changed, even with women directors. There is a terrible crisis of roles, and  film seems locked up. Everyone has their place, and "family film" is an illusion.
Garbo's character interested me enormously. I did an interview with Frederic Mitterrand, referring to the interactive exhibit Ciné Cité, which was held at La Defense. To Frederick, with his kindness, his curiosity, I asked about the great actresses of the past, and I mentioned Greta Garbo's ambiguity [laughs], Anna Magnani for her strength and Vivian Leigh for her fragility. These three actresses I worship.
"I was rock’n roll"
About  drugs, we did not know at the time, it was so dangerous. There was an ideal, to change society, and especially a thirst for novelty. Young people today do not take drugs at all in the same way. They are all paranoid, violent. But we have AIDS and unemployment. Drugs have become a matter of money. I have lost seven years of my life and I regret it bitterly. First, an image that sticks  with you in relation to people who want to work with you. Fortunately, I have not deviated to alcohol or pills. I am one of the few who has been  (an addict) and so far who is still alive. Nico, unfortunately, has not, she was suicidal. It all depends on the love we have of life, or not. Basically, I liked life and I'm out, but not alone. I started using drugs when I became famous. I did not like the celebrity, and especially the image full of innuendo, naughty, that people had of me after Last Tango. In addition, I had no family behind me, who protect you. I had no bodyguard like Sharon Stone, and so I was very exposed. I suffered abuse. People who come up to tell you unpleasant things on planes. I was tracked down, and I felt hounded. And then, we must put things into perspective. I adopted what Mastroianni said: "I am a craftsman." This is really what is best for me. I did not paint, but I paint with myself. Giving emotions to people is a pleasure. The money, fame, power, all that, it is better for protection. It takes years to understand, and it's called maturity. 

Exploring the margins
When I had trouble, I was working in the more marginal routes, with Garrel, Rivette ... I made the film Le Voyage au jardin des morts (1976), a rare film that only the fans of Garrel saw. There was no money. Garrel did everything: sound, image ... He would film in the studios at night. Rassam gave us a thousand francs for  it, a thousand francs  to make the film. Nobody was paid. This film was really made for love of art. The image is beautiful, it was blown up 16 mm black and white. I am not made up and there are shots of extraordinary beauty. Then there was Rivette. He came to me and said, "Maria, I turn to you. "Completely out of it, already under  the influence of Tranxene (drug). He made me go to Paris, his favorite cafe on the Champs-Elysees. I arrived I see a guy sitting in a suit who told me: "You know, I'm writing the script at the same time . What would you like to do? Me: "I dunno, a thriller, a thriller ..." He left  "And with what actor would you do it with? "Well, I know, with my friend Joe [Dallessandro] [laughs]. It became Merry-Go-Round (1977). Now we do more movies like this. It was the new wave, anything was possible. I am a little nervous, because Rivette is really someone who does nothing in a movie. Lubtchansky did every camera movement, and another guy wrote the lyrics. The actors are in the middle. Rivette is the posture of the director. He especially has the gift of bringing people together. 

The byways of cinema
I made  L'Imposteur by Luigi Comencini in 1982. He's a wonderful gentleman, a great director, and his three daughters are in the business: Francesca, Peppe and Cristina. This film is a fable about Jesus and the Vatican today. The subject reminds me of a movie that I declined  to do with Zeffirelli, where I interpreted the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth (1978). At the time, I said: "It's not my thing, the Virgin Mary, but I regret it very much. In addition, he emphasized he was not angry with me because he came to pick me up four years ago for a role in Jane Eyre (1994). I love Zeffirelli who is a great classic filmmaker.
For fifteen years, I went regularly between Italy and France. Citons La Dérobade, by Daniel Duval (1979), Balles perdues, by Jean-Louis Comolli (1983) which is a comic thriller, Ecrans de sable, by Randa Chahal Sabbag (1990), Au pays des Juliets, by Mehdi Charef (1991).I always go to the movies, but choose my films. My latest love Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee (2000). It is a brilliant  lyrical ballet! 

Maria Schneider, Créteil 2001
© Moira Sullivan

Un féminisme empreint de mystère (Feminism tinged with mystery )
"I prefer mystery. But at nineteen, when someone asks you about your private life, it's really painful. Questions like "Who is your lover? "Why you do not have children? At the time, I responded with a joke, I said that I had fifty lovers, men and women. It was terrible saying that. Newspapers such as Le Gay Pied responded immediately with the first degree. I think all this information interests only me. Coming out and stuff, what does it mean today? Even Jodie Foster hides. The witch hunt still exists in some quarters just as the Middle Ages. Cinema is still archaic. Among men, there is a solidarity, they look out for each other, produce among themselves, give themselves a hand, it's great. 

Women are isolated, they claim less and the more they must spread their privacy. The actress who has a baby, it sells, but the one who lives very well in her corner, it is not possible. We all have ambiguous genitalia, but it is not written on the face.  
One day, Delphine Seyrig came to see me in Los Angeles. She was forty years old, me I was twenty. She was more motivated than me by the feminist struggle. Me, I said: "We'll see, I'll do this perhaps more in two years. She made enemies and embarrassed journalists, but if it is sure to succeed, we must go in the direction of rubbing someone the right way, as Nathalie Baye, Isabelle Huppert".


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