“I didn’t want to be a star, much less a scandalous actress – simply to be in cinema” – Maria Schneider
Thursday brought news of the very sad passing of Maria Schneider, the talented and troubled French actress most famous for her role opposite Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris. Few actresses could have successfully carried the burden of such an important role on their shoulders, and it is to Schneider’s credit that she managed to eke out a successful career in spite of it. To sum up: at the age of 19, Schneider performed several nude scenes and simulated anal sex with The Godfather.
While Schneider gave many excellent performances in later films – as ‘The Girl’ in Antonioni’s The Passenger with Jack Nicholson, and as the cracked Mrs. Rochester in the 1996 revival of Jane Eyre, her depression and drug issues held her back from the film career which she deserved. Nonetheless, she was awarded the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister for Culture in 2010 in recognition of her contribution to her industry, and is rightly beloved by the community with which she had such a tempestuous relationship. Some of Schneider’s career highlights follow:
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
As the soon to be wed young girl freewheeling around Paris in the prime of her youth, Jeanne somehow manages to pass into the orbit of the American businessman Paul (Marlon Brando), quickly becoming consumed with mutual lust and sorrow. Schneider immerses herself so completely in the role that the emotional extremities of Bernardo Bertolucci’s script can still pack a punch upon repeat viewings.
The Passenger (1975)
Another young girl impulsively caught up in an affair with a charismatic foreigner – Schneider plays her role in The Passenger as a more world-weary spin on her Last Tango in Paris. However, all her jadedness and cynicism can’t keep her from being hurt once more. Nicholson and Schneider’s chemisty is immense, even overpowering Antonioni’s presence behind the camera.
A Woman Like Eve (1979)
As Liliane, Schneider plays a lesbian caught in a tug-of-war for the heart of Eve (Monique van de Ven), a wife who leaves her husband for another woman after a tentative and thrilling courtship. Schneider is seductive, sympathetic and magnificent in one of the best roles of her career.