“That film ruined her life”: Justice for Maria Schneider

By ©Moira Sullivan — Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14835701

The late actress Maria Schneider has always been the subject of my intense awe and admiration.

I say subject because, for the duration of her career, the French thespian — winner of the David di Donatello Award and nominee for the Cesar and National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA theatrical honors — fought tooth and nail against the title of “object”; not only for herself, in repeatedly refusing to do nude scenes or play roles that she felt were beneath her — but for other women as well. She demanded increased recognition of women as actors, writers and directors.

“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,” she told journalist Moira Sullivan when she was honored at the 23rd Créteil Films de Femmes International Film Festival. “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 Robert De Niro.”

Schneider, also a musician, came out as bisexual in the early 1970s, at a time when such an admission was close to unthinkable. And she was the vice president of La Roué Tourne, an organization designed to aid older and impoverished French thespians.

Schneider appeared in everything from the 1996 version of Jane Eyre to Antonioni’s The Passenger. Yet sadly, when the vast majority of people hear the name Maria Schneider, they think of her as ‘the girl from Last Tango.’

In 1972, Schneider starred with Marlon Brando in the notorious sex film Last Tango in Paris. I’ve always personally detested this misogynist piece of celluloid and cringed whenever someone refers to the picture as “erotic” or “brilliant.”

Image taken from Wikipedia, for review purposes only

The film features a scene in which Schneider’s character Jeanne is raped with the aid of a stick of butter.

One might wonder as to why the obviously feminist Schneider would agree to perform in such a scene.

Well wonder no more. Because she didn’t.

“They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry,” she told The Daily Mail in 2007. “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 apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”

Schneider’s claim, sadly but all too typically, received little heed at the time of its release. Recently, however, a video has surfaced in which Tango director Bernardo Bertolucci corroborates Schneider’s story.

“(He) admits he and Marlon Brando conspired against then-19-year-old actress Maria Schneider to film a rape scene. In the well-known scene, Brando’s character used a stick of butter as lubricant to simulate sex,” Seth Kelley wrote in Variety.

“I had been, in a way, horrible to Maria because I didn’t tell her what was going on,” Bertolucci said.

He also expressed no regret in the wake of his deplorable actions.

“I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress,” he said. “I wanted her to react humiliated.”

Bernardo Bertolucci, may you rot in hell.

The actions of Brando and Bertolucci were contemptible, revolting and unforgivable — and, in all likelihood, not without their consequences. From a lifetime aversion to cooking with butter to feelings of lasting sadness, anger, frustration and regret and even a suicide attempt, Schneider displayed classic symptoms of PTSD.

“”I was with Maria when she saw the film for the first time . . . she was absolutely shocked. She had no idea what they were going to do with her. She ran from the cinema screaming and I had to run after her into the street and comfort her,” said friend Esther Anderson. “That film ruined her life.”

“It’s also well known that Schneider, who struggled with drug addiction and mental health disease, has blamed the infamous film for the downhill trajectory of her life,” wrote Ariston Anderson in The Hollywood Reporter.

And when Schneider encountered Bertolucci at a film festival years later, she refused to speak to him; saying instead, “I don’t know that man.”

A number of Hollywood performers, from Jessica Chastain to Chris Evans, Evan Rachel Wood to Anna Kendrick, have taken to Twitter to condemn the admitted assault against Maria Schneider.

“To all the people that love this film - you’re watching a 19 yr. old get raped by a 48 yr. old man. The director planned her attack,” Chastain tweeted. “I feel sick.”

A prominent director also expressed her own, very strong feelings on this subject.

“Inexcusable,” tweeted Ava DuVernay. “As a director, I can barely fathom this. As a woman, I am horrified, disgusted and enraged by it.”

I would love to see Bertolucci tried in a court of law over this matter. At the very least, I submit that the film Last Tango in Paris be withdrawn from sale.

This is not a matter of censorship. As a published erotic author and a journalist, I am gravely concerned about the need for free speech laws. However, Schneider did not freely, enthusiastically and with full prior knowledge consent to participate in the scene as it was filmed. The film, therefore, is a record of an unconscionable act; and in honor and memory of this extraordinary woman, it should no longer be sold, rented or broadcast.

Furthermore, I refuse to ever view or support the work of Bernardo Bertolucci.

I don’t know that man.


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