French actress Maria Schneider has passed away after a long illness from cancer. Schneider was most famous for her role in the 1972 film Last Tango in Paris, which was directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and also starred Marlon Brando. She was only 58.
Schneider was just 19 when she played in the sexually charged film opposite a 48-year-old Brando. The role earned much acclaim in its time and Schneider much attention; however, Schneider never seemed to be able to move past its overtly sexual reputation.
For years, I heard remarks made here and there about the famed "butter scene" in the movie Last Tango in Paris, and at some point, I set out to find out what everyone was talking about. Of course, now that scene -- in which Brando's character presses his fat fingers into a stick of butter and then uses it as lubricant to anally rape Schneider's character -- is one that will always disgust and disturb me. The scene is so memorable and so raw, in fact, that I couldn't get past it in order to truly assess the film, which was critically acclaimed in its time (mostly by men, of course). Yes, I watched the film in its entirety, but I was haunted by several sexually humiliating scenes in it and unnerved by the twisted power play and emotional battery of the story.
Schneider's description of her experience making the film and its aftermath doesn't make me feel any better either. She told The Daily Mail of London in 2007:
I felt very sad because I was treated like a sex symbol. I wanted to be recognized as an actress, and the whole scandal and aftermath of the film turned me a little crazy and I had a breakdown. Now, though, I can look at the film and like my work in it.
Regarding the famous butter scene, she said it was not scripted and Brando insisted on its inclusion:
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 apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.
Schneider starred later with Jack Nicholson in The Passenger in 1975, and her last role was in a romantic drama called Cliente in 2008.
May you rest in peace, Maria ...
Did you see Last Tango in Paris? What was your response to the film?
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