Maria Schneider (actress)

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Maria Schneider
Maria schneider actress.jpg
Schneider at the Festival Créteil Films de Femmes in 2001
Maria-Hélène Schneider

(1952-03-27)27 March 1952
Died3 February 2011(2011-02-03) (aged 58)
Paris, France
Cause of deathBreast cancer
Years active1969–2008
Partner(s)Maria Pia Almadio
Parent(s)Daniel Gélin (deceased)
Marie-Christine Schneider
RelativesXavier Gélin (half-brother; deceased)
Fiona Gélin (half-sister)

Maria-Hélène Schneider (27 March 1952 – 3 February 2011), known as Maria Schneider, was a French actress. She starred opposite Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's film Last Tango in Paris (1972).[1]

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), Jacques Rivette's Merry-Go-Round (1981), Predrag Golubović's Peacetime in Paris (1981), Enki Bilal's Bunker Palace Hôtel (1989), Marco Bellocchio's The Conviction (1991), Mehdi Charef's In the Country of Juliets (1992), 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 conditions of women in film.[2] In 2001, Schneider was the guest of honor at the 23rd Festival Créteil Films de Femmes.[3]

Early life[edit]

Schneider was born in Paris to Daniel Gélin, a French actor, and Marie-Christine Schneider from Romania, who ran a bookshop in Paris.[4] Gélin was married to actress and producer Danièle Delorme during his affair with Marie-Christine Schneider;[5] he never acknowledged Schneider as his daughter.[6] Schneider was brought up by her mother in a town near the French border with Germany; she met her father only three times.[7]

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.[7] She eked out a living as a film extra and a model.[8] 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.[9] She was 18 when she had her first break in 1970, appearing in Madly, starring Alain Delon.[10]


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.[1] She performed several nude scenes in a graphic portrayal of anonymous sex with an older man. In an interview in 2007,[9] 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."[9] She said that Brando had a paternal relationship with her on the set, even though he suggested the acted sodomy scene.[9] 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.[9][11]

In 2013, Bertolucci said he had withheld the information from her to generate a real "reaction of frustration and rage".[12] Brando alleged that Bertolucci had wanted the characters to have real sex, but Brando and Schneider both said it was simulated.[13] 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."[14] 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."[14]

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.[15][16]

Schneider and Brando remained friends until his death, although they did not speak of the movie for some time.[citation needed] 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.[17][18] 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.[19][20][21][22]

During her career, Schneider was a strong advocate for improving the quality and conditions of work for 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.[23]

Personal life[edit]

In 1974, Schneider came out as bisexual.[24][25] In early 1976, she abandoned the film set of Caligula (reportedly due to its pornographic content, apocryphally saying "I am an actress, not a prostitute!") and checked herself into a mental hospital in Rome for several days to be with her lover, photographer Joan Townsend.[26][27] This, coupled with her refusal to perform nude, led to Schneider's dismissal from the film. (She was replaced by Teresa Ann Savoy.) Around this time and towards the end of the decade, Schneider also turned down or dropped out of productions such as Luis Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire (1976), due to creative differences (Buñuel famously replaced her with not one but two actresses for the same role), and Franco Zeffirelli's television miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1979), in which Schneider said she did not feel right for the part of Mary, mother of Jesus, though later regretted missing out on this opportunity and instead eventually appeared in Zeffirelli's 1996 film Jane Eyre in a brief appearance as Bertha Mason.

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.[28]

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.[29][30]

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 quit drugs. 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.[9]


Schneider died of breast cancer on 3 February 2011 at age 58.[31][32][33] Her funeral was held on 10 February 2011 at Church of 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.[34][35] 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.[36][37][38] Schneider and Fiona were half-sisters of Xavier Gélin, also an actor.

Legacy and honours[edit]

In 2001, Schneider was the guest of honor at the 23rd Festival Créteil Films de Femmes.[3] 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 [fr], an organization in Paris organized to support senior French actors and directors.[39] 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).

After Schneider's death, Patti Smith released a song on her 2012 album Banga called "Maria", which was dedicated both to the actress and nostalgic memories of the 1970s.

On 2018, her cousin Vanessa Schneider published Tu t'appelais Maria Schneider, a book about her.[40]



Year Film English Translation/
Also Known As
Role Language
1969 Les Femmes French
L'Arbre de Noël The Christmas Tree French
1970 Madly French
1971 Les jambes en l'air César Grandblaise Sarah Grandblaise French
1972 Hellé Nicole French
La Vieille Fille The Old Maid Mome French, German
What a Flash! French
Ultimo tango a Parigi Last Tango in Paris Jeanne French, English
1973 Cari genitori Dear Parents Antonia Italian, English
Reigen [de] Dance of Love Das süße Mädel German
1975 La Baby-Sitter The Babysitter
The Raw Edge
Scar Tissue
Wanted: Babysitter
Michèle English
Professione: reporter The Passenger The Girl English, German, Spanish
1977 Violanta Laura French
1978 Voyage au jardin des morts Hypolyte French
Io sono mia I Belong to Me Suna Spanish
1979 La Dérobade The Getaway
The Life
Memoirs of a French Whore
Maloup French
Een vrouw als Eva A Woman Like Eve Liliane Dutch
1980 Weiße Reise White Travel German
Haine Hate French
Mama Dracula Mother Dracula Nancy Hawaii French, English
1981 Une saison de paix à Paris Peacetime in Paris
Sezona mira u Parizu
Elen French, Serbian
La chanson du mal aimé French
Merry-Go-Round Leo English
1982 Cercasi Gesù Looking for Jesus
Francesca Italian
Balles perdues Stray Bullets Véra French
1984 Princess & the Photographer Yoroppa tokkyu English, Japanese
1987 Résidence surveillée Céline Fontaine French
1989 Bunker Palace Hôtel Muriel
1991 The Conviction
Écrans de sable Sarah French
1992 Au pays des Juliets In the Country of Juliets Raissa
Les Nuits fauves Savage Nights Noria French
1996 Jane Eyre Bertha English
1998 Something to Believe In English
2000 Les Acteurs The Actors Herself French
2002 La Repentie The Repentant French
2004 Au large de Bad Ragaz
2006 Perds pas la boule! Thelda French
Quale amore Italian
2007 La Vie d'artiste The Life of the Artist Cameo appearance French
La clef The Key Solange French
2008 Cliente Client
A French Gigolo
Marie-Hélène French

TV series[edit]

Year Series English Translation/
Also Known As
Role Notes
1984 Buio nella valle TV miniseries
1985 A Song for Europe A Crime of Honor TV film
1987 Résidence surveillée
L'or noir de Lornac TV series
1988 Silvia è sola TV film
1993 Contrôle d'identité TV film
1995 Navarro Samira TV series
Episode: "L'ombre d'un père"
1998 Angelo nero TV film
Il cuore e la spada Queen Maga of Ireland TV film
2004 Maigret TV series
2008 A.D. La guerre de l'ombre TV miniseries


  1. ^ a b Baker, Neal (6 December 2016). "Who was Maria Schneider? Last Tango in Paris actress in rape scene scandal". The Sun. London, England: News UK. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  2. ^ "MMI Interview: Maria Schneider". Retrieved 2018-02-28.
  3. ^ a b Jackie Buet, Elizabeth Jenny, "Maria Schneider: Belle et Rebelle","Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 January 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2014. Créteil Films de Femmes, 2001.
  4. ^ Klemesrud, Judy (4 February 1973). "Maria Says Her 'Tango' Is Not; Movies". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  5. ^ David Thomson. A Biographical Dictionary of Film. Andre Deutsch.
  6. ^ "L'actrice française Maria Schneider est décédée", Ozap
  7. ^ a b "Maria Schneider" Archived 8 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine., Movies, Yahoo
  8. ^, New York Times
  9. ^ a b c d e f Das, Lina (19 July 2007). "I felt raped by Brando". Daily Mail. London, England: Daily Mail and General Trust. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
  10. ^ "Maria Schneider". Telegraph. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  11. ^ Malkin, Bonnie (4 December 2016). "Last Tango in Paris director suggests Maria Schneider 'butter rape' scene not consensual". The Guardian. London, England: Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  12. ^ Macnab, Geoffrey (1 February 2013). "Bernardo Bertolucci:'I thought I couldn't make any more movies'". The Guardian. London, England: Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 16 February 2013.
  13. ^ Izadi, Elahe (December 5, 2016). "Why the 'Last Tango in Paris' rape scene is generating such an outcry now". The Washington Post. Washington DC: Nash Holdings LLC. Retrieved July 29, 2018.
  14. ^ a b Tovey, Jessica (9 December 2016). "Bertolucci's justification for the Last Tango rape scene is bogus. It's called 'acting' for a reason". The Guardian. London, England: Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  15. ^ Moira Sullivan, "Maria Schneider: Forget Last Tango" (Translation of "Autoportrait: Maria Schneider: Belle et Rebelle"), Jackie Buet, Elizabeth Jenny, Créteil Films de Femmes, 2001 [1]
  16. ^ Jackie Buet, Elizabeth Jenny, "Autoportrait: Maria Schneider: Belle et Rebelle" Archived 28 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine., Créteil Films de Femmes, 2001
  17. ^ McLellan, Dennis. "Maria Schneider dies at 58; actress in 'Last Tango in Paris'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  18. ^ "It shouldn't take a male director for us to know that Last Tango in Paris scene was rape". The Independent. 4 December 2016. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  19. ^ Rashkin, Esther (2008). Unspeakable Secrets and the Psychoanalysis of Culture. Albany: SUNY Press. p. 224. ISBN 0-7914-7534-4. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  20. ^ Bonnie Malkin and agencies (3 December 2016). "Last Tango in Paris director suggests Maria Schneider 'butter rape' scene not consensual". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  21. ^ "Hollywood Reacts With Disgust, Outrage Over 'Last Tango in Paris' Director's Resurfaced Rape Scene Confession". Hollywood Reporter. 3 December 2016. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  22. ^ Seth Kelley (3 December 2016). "'Last Tango in Paris' Rape Scene Was Not Consensual, Director Admits". Variety. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  23. ^ Moira Sullivan, "Interview with Maria Schneider Honored at the 23rd Créteil Films de Femmes International Film Festival", April 4, 2001
  24. ^ Hadleigh, Boze (2001), The Lavender Screen: The Gay and Lesbian Films, Citadel Press, p. 81, ISBN 0-8065-2199-6
  25. ^ Abrams, Richard M. (2006), America Transformed: Sixty Years of Revolutionary Change, 1941–2001, Cambridge University Press, pp. 165–6, ISBN 0-521-86246-9
  26. ^ Ebert, Roger (14 September 1975). "Interview with Maria Schneider". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 21 April 2007.
  27. ^ Maria Schneider Pt. 3: Memoirs of a French Whore, A Woman Like Eve Alt Film Guide, 3 February 2011.
  28. ^ "Main Bleue 111". Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  29. ^ Moira Sullivan, "Maria Schneider: Forget Last Tango" (Translation of "Autoportrait: Maria Schneider Belle et Rebelle"), 2 February2001.[2]
  30. ^ Jackie Buet, Elizabeth Jenny, "Autoportrait: Maria Schneider Belle et Rebelle""Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 8 April 2011. Créteil Films de Femmes, 2001.
  31. ^ "Last Tango In Paris star Maria Schneider dies at 58". Daily Mail. 3 February 2011.
  32. ^ Maria Schneider obituary The Guardian, 3 February 2011.
  33. ^ Moira Sullivan,Tribute to Maria SchneiderSenses of Cinema, 14 March 2011.
  34. ^ Obsèques de Maria Schneider: L'hommage de Brigitte Bardot et Alain Delon Pure People 10 February 2011.
  35. ^ Bagnaud, François. "Brigitte Bardot rend hommage à Maria Schneider – Actualités de Brigitte Bardot".
  36. ^ Mort de Maria Schneider : Son dernier adieu Pure People, 2011-025-07.
  37. ^ María Schneider; sin tangos pero con emoción en París Prensa Latina 10 February 2011.
  38. ^ Regardez l’adieu bouleversant à l’actrice disparue Archived 14 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Gala Magazine 10 February 2011.
  39. ^ "redirection".
  40. ^ "Maria Schneider : derrière l'actrice magnifique, une vie tourmentée". Les Inrockuptibles. 2018-08-10. Retrieved 2018-08-19.

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