Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

My Sister Maria

(Meine Schwester Maria, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, 2002)

It’s hard to describe this film about the older sister of Maximilian Schell. It’s certainly not a normal documentary; it’s as far from cinema verite as you could get, each shot being carefully composed, absolutely nothing spontaneous. Maria was a very popular actress after the War, both in Germany and in the US, where she worked with Yul Brynner and Marlon Brando and Gary Cooper, among many others. Throughout the movie we see clips from these performances. But Maria is now 76, in ill health. A ruin, physically, of the beautiful woman she once was. They also say her mind was going, but when she speaks she seems cogent enough. She abandoned her career in the ‘50s and withdrew from the smart set, which she never liked. Now she spends her days in bed, watching her old films on three TV sets, and her brother and family say she is reliving those old stories. I’m not so sure, but maybe. The thing is, every scene in this movie is staged. She and her family are given lines to say, playing themselves. We know this because of the care given to camera set-ups and angles, which are always mounted on tripods. Sometimes we see the same “real life” scene from different angles. You don’t do that by just turning your camera on and letting life happen in front of you. Trust me, to get footage like this takes a lot of planning on the part of the director, Max, and rehearsals. So what’s the deal with Maria walking with excruciating care over a snowy path? She falls. Was that scripted? It’s all a bit disturbing, when you think about it. However, it’s a fascinating glimpse into her life, and worthwhile for that.