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Maria Schneider Pt. 3: MEMOIRS OF A FRENCH WHORE, A WOMAN LIKE EVE

Maria Schneider, Joe Dallesandro, Merry-Go-Round
Joe Dallesandro, Maria Schneider in Jacques Rivette's Merry-Go-Round (Image: Des Filles des Garçons)

Maria Schneider Obit Pt.2: Ingmar Bergman - LAST TANGO IN PARIS "About Homosexuals"

In fact, bouts of mental illness and drug addiction, and even a suicide attempt – Daniel Gélin had similar problems in his life – helped to prevent Schneider from forging ahead professionally. Compounding matters, she also feared being typecast as a young sexpot ever ready to get naked on camera. "Never take your clothes off for a middle-aged man who claims that it's art," she would later tell the Daily Mail.

Well, if Luis Buñuel asked Schneider to take her clothes off for Cet obscur objet du désir / That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), she probably should have, as that political allegory remains one of Buñuel's most fascinating works. Schneider had been cast as Fernando Rey's "object of desire," but withdrew following a nasty argument with the director. Buñuel then replaced her with two actresses: Angela Molina and Carole Bouquet.

In his 1983 autobiography, My Last Sigh, Buñuel recalled the event:

In 1977, in Madrid, when I was in despair after a tempestuous argument with an actress who'd brought the shooting of That Obscure Object of Desire to a halt, the producer, Serge Silberman, decided to abandon the film altogether. The considerable financial loss was depressing us both until one evening, when we were drowning our sorrows in a bar, I suddenly had the idea (after two dry martinis) of using two actresses in the same role, a tactic that had never been tried before. Although I made the suggestion as a joke, Silberman loved it, and the film was saved.

Previously, Schneider had walked off of René Clément's La baby sitter / Scar Tissue (1975) to check into a sanatorium. The Clément film was finished, but Schneider eventually developed a reputation for being unreliable. She later told Roger Ebert that hers had been a gesture of support to a friend who was locked up at the facility. (The "friend," actually Schneider's lover at the time, was photographer Joan Townsend.)

Schneider was also replaced by Teresa Ann Savoy in Tinto Brass' Caligula (1979), and claimed she turned down the role of the Virgin Mary in Franco Zeffirelli's television miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977). Zeffirelli's Juliet, Olivia Hussey, was given the part.

By the late '70s, Schneider was making more headlines for her "eccentric" behavior than for her film work. Long before Ellen DeGeneres, she could be seen with a girlfriend gracing the pages of gossip magazines. "Most of the members of my generation are gay, or bisexual," she told Roger Ebert. "They have more open minds about sexuality, about what a woman's role can be, or what the potentials are." (Ebert didn't quite buy that.)

Despite having the influential Paul Kohner (grandfather of Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz) as her agent and the possibility of playing a terrorist in John Frankenheimer's 1977 thriller Black Sunday – a role that went to Marthe Keller – Schneider had no luck in Hollywood.

Unfortunately, a talked-about adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's Across the River and into the Trees never materialized. The film was to have been directed by John Huston, with Robert Mitchum as the old colonel and Schneider as the young contessa. Also around that time, she was offered a film with Jean-Luc Godard, but he wanted her to put up $40,000 as a co-investor and Schneider didn't have the money.

She did, however, land roles in several interesting European productions, but nothing to rival the popularity (or notoriety) of Last Tango in Paris. Among those was Philippe Garrel's Voyage au jardin des morts (1976), as the non-virginal object of desire of a man (Laurent Terzieff) obsessed with the idea that she should be a virgin; Nouchka van Brakel's feminist romantic drama Een vrouw als Eva / A Woman Like Eve (1979), as wife and mother Monique van de Ven's lover; and Daniel Duval's La dérobade / Memoirs of a French Whore (1979), a purportedly gritty look at female prostitution that earned Schneider a nomination as Best Supporting Actress for the French Academy's César and Miou Miou the Best Actress award.

Also: Jacques Rivette's crime drama Merry Go-Round (1981), opposite another performer known for sex-charged roles, Joe Dallesandro (and, in a supporting role, current French Minister of Culture and Communication Frédéric Mitterrand); and Luigi Comencini's comedy Cercasi Gesù / Looking for Jesus (1982).

Among Schneider's most notable film appearances in the last couple of decades, after "an angel" (she refused to identify her savior's gender) rescued her from the pits of drug addiction, were supporting roles in Cyrill Collard's over-the-top AIDS melodrama Les nuits fauves (1992), winner of four Césars, including Best Film; and Franco Zeffirelli's underwhelming adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1996), starring William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Schneider's last film role was in Josiane Balasko's romantic drama A French Gigolo / Cliente (2008), starring Eric Caravaca (as a married construction worker / sex worker), Nathalie Baye (as the wealthy client), and Isabelle Carré (as the wife). In recent years, Schneider reportedly ran The Wheel Turns, an organization that helped ageing, out-of-work actors.

Two of Schneider's half-siblings, Pascal Gélin and Xavier Gélin have also died. The former at the age of 14 months after accidentally swallowing pills in 1957 (Daniel Gélin was then married to Dior model Sylvie Hirsch), and the latter of cancer in 1999 at the age of 53. Gélin, who developed serious alcohol and drug issues, died of kidney failure in 2002 at the age of 80. (The handsome Gélin, who mostly kept his distance from Schneider, didn't look at all like her.)

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