Romy Schneider: France’s Austrian Film Icon

Romy Schneider: France’s Austrian Film Icon
For the first time in my life I took a guided tour at a Cinémathèque Française exhibit. It’s not my kind of thing, but I don’t regret it. I had only a vague idea of Romy Schneider, the subject of the exhibit, which runs until July 31. Our guide was a young woman brimming with information about the late actress, and about cinema in general. (Often the guides are persons studying at schools dedicated to culture and the arts.) She seemed to have every fact about Romy’s life and times at her fingertips. What was the reason for my lack of ciné-culture about this beloved icon? In the U.S., before easy access to “content”, whether streaming or DVDs, exposure to French movies was via film classes, magazines like Film Content, books, alternative newspapers like the Village Voice, public TV or the local highbrow movie theater. Consequently, French cinema tended to mean the New Wave. Schneider’s films, in the ‘60s and especially the ‘70s, were more traditional, what the French call classique (there were a few exceptions, such as her role in Orson Welles’ adaption of Kafka’s The Trial). I knew her name, and her beautiful face, but had blithely put her in the category of “international star.” Also, for Americans, our image of a French icon tends to be, well, French: Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau, and later Isabel Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, and Juliette Binoche. Schneider was from Austria and made German-language films in the beginning of her career (her breakout was the historical drama Sissi). Even after she moved to France with her lover Alain Delon, and worked essentially in French films, she was actually dubbed for several years. As with Marilyn Monroe, a premature death as much as a glorious career elevated her to icon status. Her image has been a mainstay of glossy society magazines as well as film magazines ever since. The anniversaries of her death have been marked by loud headers proclaiming Ten Years Aleady! Actually it’s now been 40 years since she passed, and most of her films have become fodder for French TV rather than art houses or the Cinémathèque. The exhibit doesn’t delve too much into her life (her tragic death and young son’s fatal accident weren’t mentioned). We learned that her family was, if not pro-Nazi, then passive collaborators with Nazism. Also, that her mother, also an actress, was a dominant figure in Romy’s life. In addition to her French love Delon, there was a dalliance with Horst Buchholz, a young heartthrob called the German James Dean. Alain Delon 1959, Public Domain Both the exhibit and the guided tour focus more on Schneider’s work as an actress, leading the visitor through a labyrinthine array of photos, movie stills, posters, and costumes; along every phase of her career. There are screening areas showing loops of film clips, but these are outside the purview of the tour, which lasts an hour-and-a-half as it is.

Lead photo credit : Poster of Romy Schneider by La Cinémathèque Française

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Dimitri Keramitas was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, and was educated at the University of Hartford, Sorbonne, and the University of London, and holds degrees in literature and law. He has lived in Paris for years, and directs a training company and translation agency. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, including Bonjour Paris and France Today. He is a contributing editor to Movies in American History. In addition he is an award-winning writer of fiction, whose stories have been published in many literary journals. He is the director of the creative writing program at WICE, a Paris-based organization. He is also a director at the Paris Alumni Network, an organization linking together several hundred professionals, and is the editor of its newletter. The father of two children, Dimitri not only enjoys Paris living but returning to the US regularly and traveling in Europe and elsewhere.