Maria Schneider (actress) victim of submission
Schneider worked in more than 50 films and television productions between 1969 and 2008, including Last Tango in Paris Michelangelo Antonioni‘s The Passenger (1975), opposite Jack Nicholson, René Clément‘s Wanted: Babysitter (1975), Daniel Schmid‘s Violanta (1976), Nouchka van Brakel‘s A Woman Like Eve (1979), Daniel Duval‘s Memoirs of a French Whore (1979), Boris Szulzinger‘s Mama Dracula (1980), Jacques Rivette‘s Merry-Go-Round (1981), Enki Bilal‘s Bunker Palace Hôtel (1989), Marco Bellocchio‘s The Conviction (1991), Cyril Collard‘s Savage Nights (1992), Franco Zeffirelli‘s Jane Eyre (1996), and Josiane Balasko‘s A French Gigolo (2008).
Throughout her career, she was a strong advocate for improving the work of women in film. In 2001, Schneider was the guest of honor at the 23rd Festival Créteil Films de Femmes
Schneider was born in Paris to Daniel Gélin, a French actor, and Marie-Christine Schneider from Romania, who ran a bookshop in Paris. Gélin was married to actress and producer Danièle Delorme during his affair with Marie-Christine Schneider; he never acknowledged Schneider as his daughter.Schneider was brought up by her mother in a town near the French border with Germany; she met her father only three times.
As a teenager, she adored films, going to the cinema up to four times a week. She left home at 15 after an argument with her mother and went to Paris, where she made her stage acting debut that same year.She eked out a living as a film extra and a model. While working as an extra, she met Brigitte Bardot, who knew her father. Bardot offered Schneider a room in her house. Through Bardot, Schneider met people in the film business and Bardot introduced her to the William Morris Agency. She was 18 when she had her first break in 1970, appearing in Madly, starring Alain Delon.
Schneider gained international renown for her performance at the age of 19 in the sexually explicit Last Tango in Paris (1972), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. She performed several nude scenes in a graphic portrayal of anonymous sex with an older man. In an interview in 2007, Schneider said of Bertolucci: “He was fat and sweaty and very manipulative, both of Marlon and myself, and would do certain things to get a reaction from me.” She said that Brando had a paternal relationship with her on the set, even though he suggested the acted sodomy scene. Bertolucci did not reveal this scene to her until just before the filming of it. In 2007, she said:
I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script, but at the time, I didn’t know that. Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take.
In 2013, Bertolucci said he had withheld the information from her to generate a real “reaction of frustration and rage”. Brando alleged that Bertolucci had wanted the characters to have real sex, but Brando and Schneider both said it was simulated. Actress Jessica Tovey, writing in The Guardian, argued that Bertolucci’s defense of pursuing an artistic vision was “bogus” and that what occurred was “a violation.” Tovey also observed that it is difficult to imagine the “roles being reversed; Brando being brutalized only to discover midway through filming that Schneider and Bertolucci had conspired to add an element of humiliation.”
In 2001, Schneider commented:
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 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… 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.
Schneider and Brando remained friends until his death, although they did not speak of the movie for some time. She has said that due to her experience with the film – and her treatment afterward as a sex symbol rather than as a serious actress – she decided never to work nude again. Because of the scandal surrounding the film’s release, Schneider’s career was seriously damaged. She started struggling with depression, became a drug addict and made several suicide attempts. She later became a women’s rights advocate, in particular fighting for more female film directors, more respect for female actors, and better representation of women in film and media. Criminal proceedings were brought against Bertolucci in Italy for the anal-sex scene; the film was sequestered by the censorship commission and all copies were ordered destroyed. An Italian court revoked Bertolucci’s civil rights for five years and gave him a four-month suspended prison sentence. In 1978 the Appeals Court of Bologna ordered three copies of the film to be preserved in the national film library with the stipulation that they could not be viewed, until Bertolucci was later able to re-submit it for general distribution with no cuts.
Schneider also appeared in films such as Michelangelo Antonioni‘s The Passenger (1975), René Clément‘s Wanted: Babysitter (1975), Daniel Schmid‘s Violanta (1976), Nouchka van Brakel‘s A Woman Like Eve (1979), Daniel Duval‘s Memoirs of a French Whore (1979), Boris Szulzinger‘s Mama Dracula (1980), Jacques Rivette‘s Merry-Go-Round (1981), Enki Bilal‘s Bunker Palace Hôtel (1989), Marco Bellocchio‘s The Conviction (1991), Cyril Collard‘s Savage Nights (1992), Franco Zeffirelli‘s Jane Eyre (1996), and Josiane Balasko‘s A French Gigolo (2008). Schneider worked in more than 50 films and television productions between 1969 and 2008. During her career, she was a strong advocate for improving the work of women in film.
I’m still struggling for the image of women in film and I’m still working, not as much as I would like to because for a woman in her late forties, it’s hard to find work. Not only in France. I had a chat with Anjelica Huston last year. We spoke about the same problem, you know. I don’t know where it comes from? The writers, the producers, or the directors. But I think it’s a pity even for the public. We get a response to see a mature woman in film. We see many, many macho men in film. An actress like Meryl Streep doesn’t work as much as Bob De Niro.
In 1974, Schneider came out as bisexual. In early 1976, she abandoned the film set of Caligula and checked herself into a mental hospital in Rome for several days to be with her lover, photographer Joan Townsend. This, coupled with her refusal to perform nude, led to Schneider’s dismissal from the film. She was replaced by Teresa Ann Savoy.
The 1970s were turbulent years for Schneider, marked by drug addiction, overdoses, and a suicide attempt. Schneider said that she disliked the instant fame accorded to her from Last Tango in Paris. She suffered abuse and began taking drugs.
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… I have lost seven years of my life and I regret it bitterly… 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 suffered abuse. People who come up to tell you unpleasant things on planes. I was tracked down, and I felt hounded.
By the 1980s, however, her life had improved:
I was very lucky – I lost many friends to drugs – but I met someone in 1980 who helped me stop. I call this person my angel and we’ve been together ever since. I don’t say if it’s a man or a woman. That’s my secret garden. I like to keep it a mystery.
Schneider died of breast cancer on 3 February 2011 at age 58. Her funeral was held on 10 February 2011 at Église Saint-Roch, Paris, attended by actors, directors, and producers in French cinema such as Dominique Besnehard, Bertrand Blier, Christine Boisson, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, and Andréa Ferreol, her partner Maria Pia Almadio, half-siblings Fiona and Manuel Gélin, and her uncle Georges Schneider. Delon read a tribute from Brigitte Bardot. Schneider was cremated afterwards at Père Lachaise crematorium, and her ashes were to be scattered at sea at the foot of the Rock of the Virgin in Biarritz, according to her last wishes. Schneider and Fiona were half-sisters of Xavier Gélin, also an actor.
Legacy and honours
In 2001, Schneider was the guest of honor at the 23rd Festival Créteil Films de Femmes. In a master class at the festival, she called film “a tracing of memory”, and said that women must be recognized as actors and directors. She also brought attention to the importance of assisting senior French actors who become unemployed and impoverished. Schneider was chosen the same year as vice-president of La Roue Tourne, an organization in Paris organized to support senior French actors and directors. According to Schneider, Marcel Carné, director of Children of Paradise (1945) and one of the most important directors of the late 1930s, would have died in poverty but for La Roue Tourne supporting him for the last 10 years of his life.
On 1 July 2010, Schneider was awarded the medal of Chevalier, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, for her contributions to the arts by Minister of Culture and Communication, Frédéric Mitterrand. He had acted with her in Jacques Rivette‘s film, Merry-Go-Round (1981).
On 2018, her cousin Vanessa Schneider published Tu t’appelais Maria Schneider, a book about her.