Thursday, June 13, 2024

“BEING MARIA”

THE STORY – Maria is a young, struggling actress with promise. When an emerging Italian director casts her to headline a new film alongside an American superstar, her dreams are coming true. But what seems like a big breakthrough turns out to be the start of a living hell. That movie is “Last Tango in Paris.” The actress is Maria Schneider.

THE CASTAnamaria Vartolomei, Yvan Attal & Matt Dillon

THE TEAMJessica Palud (Director/Writer) & Laurette Polmanss (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 102 Minutes


Maria Schneider was a better actress than most gave her credit for, particularly filmmakers who – according to Schneider herself, never shied away from the topic in interviews – only saw her as a performer willing to get naked on camera following her breakout performance in “Last Tango in Paris” (1972). By all accounts, the film did her few favors on multiple levels, which is why she held a lifelong grudge against its director, Bernardo Bertolucci. And yet, Jessica Palud’s “Being Maria” doesn’t do a particularly good job of giving Schneider her due. In fact, for a movie ostensibly about showing the world she was more than just the girl from “Last Tango In Paris,” it spends a disproportionate amount of time on that period of her life, with that single project taking up roughly half of the film’s runtime.

Of course, it is no surprise that the movie would be part of a Schneider biopic for two reasons: it remains, to this day, the most famous item in her filmography and, especially in the post-Weinstein era, it’s a textbook example of a set where the director felt at liberty to psychologically mess with his actors (Marlon Brando famously despised Bertolucci for getting such a raw and vulnerable performance out of him, and basically gave up on similarly intense roles for the remainder of his career). It’s also been the subject of manufactured controversy: Bertolucci repeatedly stated in interviews that the infamous rape scene was scripted, but parts of it were on the day of shooting, and a carefully edited video of his comments was circulated to make it seem like Brando had actually raped Schneider during filming.

“Being Maria” does not indulge in such conspiracy theories, essentially sticking to reported facts, often through Schneider’s own words, as her quotes are an integral part of the screenplay, based on the 2018 biography written by Vanessa Schneider titled “My Cousin Maria Schneider.” Although it is notable that, during the re-enactments of the “Last Tango In Paris” shoot, the camera focuses only on Bertolucci and his two actors: the former occasionally talks to a guy named Vittorio, who remains unseen. Vittorio Storaro, the cinematographer of “Last Tango in Paris” is still alive, unlike the other three people depicted, and presumably – presumably – willingly omitted from those scenes.

Not that his presence would make any discernible difference: while the movie is poorly executed in general, the overlong “Last Tango In Paris” section is especially fastidious. The acting could perhaps compensate for the pedestrian writing and uninspired directing. Still, while Anamaria Vartolomei brings her customary pained intensity to the role of Schneider, her male co-stars appear to be misdirected throughout: Giuseppe Maggio shows none of the charisma that would explain why actors were drawn to working with Bertolucci, and Matt Dillon is an embarrassingly surface-level Brando. Perhaps there could have been some deliberate irony at play, with such a basic approximation of a man who gave his most emotionally naked performance under those circumstances, but the film plays it way too straight to be in on any kind of postmodern joke.

Once that’s sorted out, the film has little under an hour left to get through the rest of Schneider’s career, or at least the CliffsNotes version of part of her career. Additionally, it burns through that section with such apparent disinterest, both behind and in front of the camera, that it unwittingly confirms the erroneous impression that there is nothing to Schneider once the “Last Tango In Paris” section is over. Unfortunately, “Being Maria” is just as big a disservice to her as most of her actual filmography was.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Anamaria Vartolomei conveys Maria’s pain in a convincing manner, despite the lackluster script and supporting performances.

THE BAD - For a film supposedly about Maria Schneider’s career beyond “Last Tango in Paris,” it devotes a disproportionately large amount of time to that stage of her life. The supporting cast is misdirected throughout.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 4/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Anamaria Vartolomei conveys Maria’s pain in a convincing manner, despite the lackluster script and supporting performances. <br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>For a film supposedly about Maria Schneider’s career beyond “Last Tango in Paris,” it devotes a disproportionately large amount of time to that stage of her life. The supporting cast is misdirected throughout.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>4/10<br><br>"BEING MARIA"