“I am hitting my life so hard”, such were the words of Romy Schneider who, 40 years after her death, echo a painful past strewn with pitfalls. To understand the one who will become one of the greatest German icons at the heart of French-speaking cinema, you have to go back to her origins. Daughter of actress Magda Schneider and Wolf Albach-Retty, the young Rosemarie Magdalena Albach, known as Romy Schneider, was predestined from birth to follow in the footsteps of her mother, herself a star of Austrian cinema in the 1930s. delivered a very impressive performance in Libelei (A love story in French) in 1933, she was a good actress and Romy also aspired to play”, confided Emmanuel Bonini, author of the book The real Romy Schneider.
Already, during her integration into the Goldenstein girls’ boarding school in 1949, the young Romy Schneider stood out. Because of her strong temperament and her great ambitions, she took her first steps as an actress by participating in shows in front of her young friends. She only had to wait until 1954 to enter the big leagues with her first film When Hans Deppe’s white lilacs will bloom again. “His hearing was extraordinary. Her father told her ‘You are not beautiful but you capture the light like no one else’. She was very photogenic”, explained the biographer. A budding chemistry between the camera and the young 15-year-old girl who will follow her until her last breath.
Two years after her acting debut, the young German embodies on the big screen – what some consider to be the greatest role of her life – the Empress of Austria alias Sissi in The Young Years of a Queen. A character who will push her to the front of the stage… But at what cost? If the first opus was a successful appetizer for Romy Schneider, turning parts two and three was more laborious. “She wanted to give something else very young. His mother had told him that he should not lock himself into a role but there was also money at stake”, explained Emmanuel Bonini.
On the strength of this international success, the young Romy Schneider aspires to greater things. Luckily or not, the director Pierre Gaspard-Huit aims to shoot a remake of the film Libelei which crowned Madga Schneider, twenty years earlier. To resume the role of the latter, who better than his own daughter? Upon her arrival in France, Romy Schneider meets her future stage partner – and future lover – Alain Delon. Against all expectations, love at first sight was not immediate, quite the contrary. “They were so different,” Emmanuel Bonini reminds us. But don’t opposites attract? On March 22, 1959, Romy Schneider and Alain Delon became discreetly engaged.
Now engaged to Alain Delon, Romy Schneider sees herself described as a “wife of”. Having become “nerdy”, the public no longer has as much interest in the young German who became the shadow of her lover. “His relationship with Delon was harmful. What is certain is that he opened the doors of France to him. It was good for her”, explained Emmanuel Bonini before qualifying: “But she was cataloged, it is very hard. She had no more offers. Delon had arrived in the cinema by chance when she was an actress at heart. She needed this”.
It will finally be the director Luchino Visconti who will allow him to reconnect with success. In 1961, Romy Schneider and Alain Delon play opposite each other again in the play Damage that she is a whore. A new exercise for the young prodigy who is not used to playing in front of spectators. If success was there, it was not without suffering for Romy Schneider. Between Visconti and Romy – renamed Romina by the latter – tensions and arguments flare up. “He was a guy who felt the potential, someone unique. He was terrible”, explained Emmanuel Bonini. Despite this, when Romy Schneider will receive her first César, she will dedicate it to the director.
Back on the front of the stage, Romy Schneider leaves for the country of Uncle Sam after having played in the play The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. Although little known across the Atlantic, the German filmed under the direction of several great American directors including Orson Welles in The Trial, Carl Foreman in The Winners, Otto Preminger with The Cardinal and Loan me your husband by David Swift. It was also at this time that certain rumors of infidelity reached her ears. Her fiancé Alain Delon would frolic with a certain Nathalie. Disillusioned, the young woman does not take this supposed idyll seriously, she who firmly believes in their engagement.
Unpredictable, the Cheetah will leave her a few weeks later in a fifteen-page farewell letter. The following year, in 1964, Alain Delon will become the father of a boy named Anthony. A stab all the stronger for the German who would have aborted their child at the beginning of their idyll.
Romy Schneider who said that “nothing is colder than a dead love” clings to her acting career in order to overcome her brutal abandonment. She will shoot in the feature films What’s New, Pussycat? by Cliver Donner in 1965 then in Half past Ten in Summer by Jules Dassin as well as in The Fantastic True Stories by Eddie Chapman. In 1966, she married director Harry Meyen in Cap-Ferrat. This same year, Romy Schneider will definitively abandon her role of young girl in favor of that of mother following the birth of her son David.
Some will say that this is the most beautiful performance on screen between Alain Delon and Romy Schneider. The feature film La Piscine, by Jacques Deray, remains above all the reunion of maturity between the two lovers who have each evolved differently. It must be said that Alain Delon “had hurt the actress so much that she knew there would be no future with him”, reports Emmanuel Bonini.
A reunion that was possible thanks to the actor who insisted that his ex-fiancée get the title role after being refused by Brigitte Bardot. Indeed, despite his stubbornness, Alain Delon left empty-handed from his seat at La Madrague.
“All the conditions were met to make it a legendary film. She had to fight to change, to emancipate herself. She fought to be seen as an actress and not as a star”, explains the biographer. From then on, a strange perfume reigns on the set, contrasting with this idyllic picture, all the more so when their respective children -Anthony Delon and David Meyen – have fun together by the pool between two shots.
“I have my peak behind me, I’m not saying it ironically, because I really believe that an actress is at her peak at twenty-five,” said actress Romy Schneider, the year of her 35th birthday. And yet, the actress is far from suspecting the many successful films that will definitely impose her success in France. His passport to popular cinema came in 1972 with the film César et Rosalie. Like all the directors before him who had the opportunity to film with Romy Schneider, Claude Sautet (with whom the actress had already filmed in Les Choses de la vie in 1969) had to deal with bloodshed and impulsiveness. of the actress.
It must be said that the star was all the better when she was pushed to her limits. “She said she wanted a man to do violence to her. She needed his reports. She was nervous and in constant need of affection. With director Claude Chabrol, it was hell. He gave her his instructions and then he went to play cards and she would go crazy because he did not watch her play, ”explains Emmanuel Bonini.
Already during her collaboration with Henri-Georges Clouzot in L’enfer, in 1964, Romy Schneider faced a director with pugnacious methods. “She discovered something else. With him, either we progressed or we broke”. Same story in 1975, when the actress turns under the direction of director Andrzej Żuławski for The important thing is to love. “Alain Delon said that she was already too ‘broken’ at that time of her life and that we should not have made her play in this kind of film”, explains the biographer and adds: “But it’s she who was in demand. She needed this”.
The actor Jean-Louis Trintignant will say about him: “Romy was unhappy when the job was going terribly well. When she shot it, she was already dying. The dramas of his life were reflected on the screen”, reports the biographer in his book, The real Romy Schneider. A trying film from which she will emerge as the big winner by winning the César for best actress in 1976. Strong, exhausting roles that have often pushed her to the edge of the precipice, the actress has experienced many. She won’t have to wait long before she finally falls into a hellish sphere that is almost impossible to overcome…
Alcohol, depression, drugs…. Find out more in our episode 2 to be released on May 25, 2022.