By Moira Sullivan.
This interview with Maria Schneider was made in March 2001, when she was the guest of honor at the Créteil Films de Femmes festival. This year’s festival, the 33rd, held between 25 March – April 3 2011, is dedicated to Maria Schneider.
Maria Schneider was the Guest of Honor at the Créteil Films de Femmes International Women’s Film Festival, March 23-April 2, 2001 and honored with a retrospective of her work. Schneider was the star of the riveting Last Tango in Paris (Italy, 1972), a film New York film critic Pauline Kael loved and defended and whose 6,000-word review was used as an ad to promote the film. In Italy director Bernardo Bertolucci and actors Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando were brought to court for making an “indecent” film. The charges were later dropped. In several cities in the US, the film was banned. Schneider’s career after that was always equated with this cardinal work. She starred in over 40 films and is presented here in a personal interview from the Créteil festival.
Q: Maria you were the “cause celebre” of the ’70s art house films and worked with directors such as Antonioni and Bertolucci. You had a very interesting career and did a lot for women’s roles and many people remember you for that. What are you doing now?
A: 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 Angelica 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 DeNiro. That’s a struggle that’s still going on for many, many years.
Q: Lauren Bacall who was guest at the recent Stockholm International Film Festival said the same thing. She said that the film in which she was Oscar nominated, The Mirror Has Two Faces, was the first good part she had got in a long time.
A: Yeah, yeah yeah. It still goes on.
Q: You did a lot for women’s roles in the 1970s and were way out there. You say you don’t like the theater; you think it’s boring and are a real cineaste. Did you find art house cinema or did it find you?
A: 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, and because of destiny I had to stop school. I had a fight with my mother. So I was living alone and did little parts in film to just earn some money. And in one of these films I met Brigitte Bardot. And she took me under her wing and I lived with her for two years and with her I met the movie business and her agents and they said “you should do movies.” So it was well, just destiny. And then I started right away.
Q: How do you feel about being honored by the Créteil Films de Femmes festival for your work this year?
A: Very touched because I have followed this festival for 23 years. I was on the jury in Sceaux (original site of Films de Femmes in the late 1970s) 20 years ago. And I discovered films at this festival which you couldn’t see anywhere. The German school, Helma Sanders-Brahms, Margaretha Von Trotta-films that you couldn’t see elsewhere. It still exists because we still have to fight, me as an actress, even if we have more women directors today, it’s still difficult, more difficult for women. We are not in the production as much as men. An event like this is important and useful. And plus the girls (organisers) told me, I could show five of my movies, that I could choose — that was interesting.
Q: Because you have made over 40 films?
A: Yeah [laughter].
Q: What do you think about art house cinema today…Artistic films that use film language instead of having rising action, falling action and resolution?
A: I’ve seen the Julian Schnabel film (Before Night Falls) with Javier Bardem. I saw it privately, because I met Julian and he showed me the film three weeks ago and I think it’s a beautiful film. Poetic, lyrical and it says something, but not heavily. It’s very fine: I’m glad that there are still films like that today. And I think of Straight Story by David Lynch. A film, which I love, which is more like a John Ford film. But the message is eternal. And that’s important.
Q: That is what you mentioned about Last Tango not being — the way that it was made was that it did not age well as The Passenger (Antonioni, 1975).
A: Yes, Last Tango is typically ’70s and the style is a little kitsch today. And it got old. The Passenger, no, it still stands. I don’t know what do you think?
Q: It was great. It was also nostalgic to look back at that time.
A: Me, too [laughter].
Q: How do you feel about the response to you — there is a lot of press in France about you being honored at Créteil? How do you feel you’ve been received?
A: Very interesting. Because finally after I’ve been doing this now for thirty years, finally I find some cheerful articles, and you know people kind of understand me better now today than they used to. Because the media threw stones at me. When you read the articles back in the ’70s they were terrible back then. And now seeing the kind of choices I made, they kind of understand me better. And respect me better; maybe it’s the age, I don’t know [laughter].
Q: Adjectives that come up about you in some of the recent press are “mysterious” and “difficult to get to know.” Would you say that’s true?
A: No, I don’t live around show business. I have a simple life. And maybe that’s why. I don’t go on television often unless I have something to say. And if you’re not in the media today and you don’t work, you don’t exist which is not true. Many people aren’t in the media. But they work and do art.
Q: To get back to Lauren Bacall, she is constantly asked questions about Humphrey Bogart despite the fact she had a life after him. The public has this icon in their mind.
A: I have the same with Last Tango.
Q: If you could write your own legend rather then the legend that has been generated about you what would you write?
A: I will tell you in about 20 years even later on.
Q: There is something very tricky about this word legend — it’s kind of like a story. But everyone has a story of their life and sometimes we have our own stories of ourselves that don’t get told.
A: Movies are a mirror of society and I’m just an interpreter of that. And I love movies because they are the memory of our time.
Q: Thank you very much for speaking with us, Maria. Do you have any imminent projects coming up?
A: I’m going to shoot in May and play the sister of Isabelle Adjani [in a film] made by Laetitia Masson, a woman director (The Repentant). Isabelle is interesting. It’s Mediterranean, and we’re playing two sisters and it’s quite tragic.
Moira Sullivan is a film critic and member of FIPRESCI and FEODORA and holds a PhD in Cinema Studies from Stockholm University.
This interview is reprinted with permission by ©Moira Sullivan, Movie Magazine International, San Francisco.
Read Sullivan’s tribute to Schneider here.