Maria Schneider: Actress best known for starring opposite Marlon Brando in the controversial film 'Last Tango in Paris'

The French actress Maria Schneider became famous over-night when she starred opposite Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial film Last Tango in Paris (1972), which featured perhaps the most famous sex scene in cinemahistory, in which Brando, with the aid of a slab of butter, appears to have anal intercourse with his co-star.The sequence caused a world-wide furore, and the film was banned in several countries (including parts of the UK). Schneider and Brando, along with Bertolucci, were idicted by an Italian court on charges of obscenity for participating in the making of an erotic movie, and it was banned in Italy until 1987.

Though it gave Schneider lasting fame, it also started a career marked by breakdowns, drug addiction, a suicide attempt and fractured relationships. Schneider would later claim that she was coerced into doing the film's most notorious sequence, which had been thought up by Brando (she was an unknown with no professional training) and she harboured a lifelong animosity towards Bertolucci, stating, "Never take your clothes off for middle-aged men who claim that it is art."

Born Marie Christine Gelin in Paris in 1952, she was the illegitimate daughter of a Romanian teenage model who ran a bookshop, and the popular French actor Daniel Gelin, who was married to the actress Danièle Delorme at the time and refused to acknowledge his daughter. She was raised by her mother in a town near the German border until at the age of 15 she left home after an argument and went to Paris, where Brigitte Bardot, who had worked with Gelin and was allegedly appalled at his behaviour, gave her a room in her house and found her an agent.

Schneider took her mother's surname when she started working in films as an extra, movies in which she had brief roles including L'Arbre de Noel (The Christmas Tree, 1969) with William Holden, and Madly (1971), an Alain Delon vehicle, but was still an unknown when she auditioned with over 100 other actresses for Last Tango in Paris, in which she played an unworldly, bourgeois girl, about to get married, who meets a middle-aged widower in an empty Paris apartment. (The role was intended for Dominique Sanda, who had become pregnant.) The couple embark on an intense, entirely physical affair during which the man works out his aggression – at his request, they do not even learn each other's names.

The combination of Brando and Bertolucci, and the notoriety of its sexual content, made the film anenormous hit, described by the critic Pauline Kael as "bold and imaginative – a great work," and Brando and Bertolucci were nominated for Oscars, though an Italian court gave Bertolucci a four-month suspended prison sentence for obscenity. "Iwas too young to say no," said Schneider of the much discussed scene. "I was no more than a baby at 19. So I did the scene and I cried. I was trapped in his fantasy."

Schneider was to appear in one more memorable film, Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975), an existential but accessible thriller in which Jack Nicholson starred as a reporter who assumes the identity of a look-alike who dies during an overnight stay in a hotel, later discovering that the man was a gun-runner. Again nameless (she is billed as "the girl"), Schneider was impressive as an enigmatic, outwardly naïve architectural student – part of the exquisitely photographed movie is set against the background of Gaudi's Barcelona.

In the year The Passenger was released, Schneider walked off the set of René Clément's La Baby-Sitter to become a voluntary patient at a psychiatric hospital in Rome in order to be with her lover, the American photographer Joan Townsend, who was incarcerated there. "They had locked her up, so I had to do it out of loyalty," she explained. In 1977, cast as Conchita in Luis Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire, she made headlines by walking off the set because, she said, of excessive nudity, and two years later she abandoned Tinto Brass's Caligula for the same reason. "I felt very sad because I was treated like a sex symbol and I wanted to be recognised as an actress. The whole scandal and aftermath turned me a little crazy and I had a nervous breakdown."

She turned down the chance to play Mary Magdalene in Franco Zeffirelli's epic television drama, Jesus of Nazareth (1978), a decision she later regretted. Later films included La Derobade (Memoirs of a French Whore, 1979), Mama Dracula (1980), Jacques Rivette's Merry-Go-Round (1981), which teamed her with Joe Dallessandro, Balles perdu (1983), L'Art de Survivre (Bunker Palace Hotel, 1989) and Les Nuits Fauve (1992). She played Mrs Rochester in Franco Zeffirelli's Jane Eyre (1996) and was an ageing courtesan in her final film, Josiane Balasko's Client (2008). A dependence on drugs blighted much of her later life, but she was finally able to conquer her addiction with the help of a partner whom she called "my angel" but refused to identify.

Marie Christine Gelin (Maria Schneider), actress: born: Paris 27 March 1952; died Paris 3 February 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms