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Feminist Europe, Book Review: A Talent

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That oversight — considering Alice Schwarzer's sense of social criticism, which determines her view of Romy Schneider's biography—is noteworthy in that the question of significant female figures in outstanding films of the Western world is thus omitted from consideration in shaping the portrait. For no one knows better than Alice Schwarzer how inadequate conditions were for creating truly great women's stories of the sort that Romy ardently wished for in her more mature years.

The ultimate, tragic conclusion reached by the author, who expresses great sympathy, empathy, and admiration for the actress, is that in all her roles, Romy Schneider personified male fantasies of woman's hybrid nature, the saint and the whore, which began with her "Sissi" image [in the eponymous 1955 film, with sequels in 1956 and 1957, trans. note], from which she fled to France and Alain Delon, and continued more or less throughout her "good" films, including the last one, La Passante du Sans-Souci [The Passerby, 1982].

In her first chapter, Alice Schwarzer describes an October 1974 appearance by Romy Schneider on German television, an event that in her opinion reveals all of Romy Schneider's sensitive and fastidious qualities as well as their inherent potential for conflict. It is a good chapter, intelligently orchestrated. Those who liked Romy Schneider and wish to read a description of a dazzling and glamorous life can close the book here and hold on to their pleasant illusions.

Alice Schwarzer researched Romy's life in the usual ways. Her own meetings and conversations with her are important sources for her views and appraisal. Even more important are quotations from Romy Schneider's letters and diary entries recording the drearns and desires of her early years, illnesses she suffered as a young girl in a strict Catholic boarding school, moments of exuberant happiness and inner turmoil, constant battles for inner freedom, and defeats. These show Romy to be a sensitive observer of herseif and her environment. The image that Schwarzer creates of Romy, the image of an insecure woman tortured by fears and self-doubts who was always an object of male exploitation both at work and in her private life, would surely have been vehemently denied, were it not confirmed by Romy's diaries.
All the conflicts she could not re-solve with her tormentor of the moment, be that her stepfather Hans-Herbert Blatzheim, husbands Harry Meyen and Daniel Biasini, be it Luchino Visconti or Heinrich Böll, by whom she feit misunderstood, or conflicts with herseif—all these she dealt with spiritedly and passionately, also with wit and excess, by writing.

Schwarzer the Journalist testifies to Romy's writing talent. She acknowledges the covert criticism with which Romy reacts, for example, to her parents' closeness to Nazi bigwigs by her film portrayals of Jewish women's destinies and by giving her children Jewish names. She also discovers Romy Schneider's belated reactions to women's struggle for emancipation and her dogged, though "blind," search for an egalitarian partner relationship. She describes Romy's addiction to pills and alcohol under the influence of her partners Delon and Meyen. With all due respect for her struggles, "vacillating between subjugation and tyranny," she concludes in the end that it was Romy's "half-heartedness" that "prevented her from taking the last step, which is so urgently necessary for highest quality." The Statement may be true, but is it also justified? If rneant as quintessence, it seems somewhat small-minded.

Schwarzer's biography itself contradicts the Statement. As described by Schwarzer, Romy Schneider's life appears as a prime example of unscrupulous male society's degrading, almost murderous approach to women's life expectations and vitality. Romy Schneider represents the type of woman who endures this destiny more or less knowingly, who lacks the heart for permanent combat. Such battles require life-long action. Romy Schneider, according to Alice Schwarzer, could muster a fighting spirit only partially. She had talent, which is also a destiny, and wanted to make the most of it. What choice did she really have? And what, in reality, might the "highest quality" prize have been?

by Elise Liebscher; Trans. Jeanette Clausen, Feminist Europe 2008. - Review of Schwarzer, Alice: "Romy Schneider — Mythos und Leben." [Romy Schneider—Myth and Life] Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1998. - Review originally ap-peared in BerlinerLeseZeichen, Issue 2/1999. © Edition Luisenstadt, 1999. Thanks to Luisenstädter Bildungsverein e.V. for this review.

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