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My Cousin Maria Schneider

A Memoir

Translated by Molly Ringwald



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About The Book

“A beautiful eulogy and a much-needed corrective” (The New York Times)—a love letter to Maria Schneider, the 1970s movie starlet who catapulted to fame in the controversial film Last Tango in Paris—only to live the rest of her life plagued by scandal, as told from the perspective of her adoring younger cousin.

The late French actress Maria Schneider is perhaps best known for playing Jeanne in the provocative film Last Tango in Paris, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and released to international shock and acclaim in 1972. It was Maria’s first major role, alongside film legend Marlon Brando, when she was barely eighteen years old. The experience would haunt her for the rest of her life, traumatizing her and sparking a tabloid firestorm that only ceased when she began to retreat from the public eye nearly two decades later.

To Maria’s much younger cousin, Vanessa Schneider, Maria was a towering figure of another kind—a beautiful and fearsome fixture in Vanessa’s childhood, a rising star turned pariah whose career and struggles with addiction won the family shame and pride in equal measure. Here, Vanessa recounts the challenges of their overlapping youths and fraught adulthood and reveals both the tragedy and inevitability of Maria’s path in a family plagued by mental illness and in a society rife with misogyny.

Unsentimental and moving, My Cousin Maria Schneider is a love letter to a talented artist and the cousin who admired her, and a powerful story of exploitation and how its lingering effects can reverberate through a lifetime.


Chapter 1
“I had a beautiful life,” you say with a tired smile. It’s a few days before your death and you’re lost in happy memories. Your voice is soft, like a finger gliding along a piece of velvet. You don’t say it to make us happy, or to convince yourself—that isn’t your way.

At first, I don’t understand. Your declaration seems like a dissonant note in an otherwise harmonic chord. For so long now I’ve been worrying about you—years of my life spent living through your pain and misfortune until it became nearly indistinguishable from my own. And yet, here we are.

“I had a beautiful life.”

I’m so glad you see it this way.

You are fifty-eight years old when you die. Far too young—and yet we never thought you would make it even that long. Most people assumed that you had died years ago. To them, you’re already a figure from the distant past.

After your death, the media thrusts you back into the spotlight. The articles all tell the same story, more or less, cobbled together from the same hackneyed clichés: “Erotic Actress” and “Lost Child of the Cinema.” They write about The Last Tango in Paris and of your “ruined career” and “tragic destiny.” There’s the hedonism of the seventies, the cruelty of the film business and, of course, the sex and drugs.

No one writes about how, when you die, you are sipping champagne, your favorite drink—the one that could make you forget your childhood and help fill in the cracks of a fractured, sensitive soul. You leave us amidst bubbles and bursts of laughter, loving faces and smiles—–upright with your head held high, a little tipsy. With panache.

About The Author

Vanessa Schneider ©JFPAGA.

Vanessa Schneider is a French journalist and novelist. She lives in Paris, where she works at the prestigious daily newspaper Le Monde. For over ten years, she has written award-winning essays and novels that have been translated abroad. My Cousin Maria Schneider is her eighth book, and her first to be translated into English.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (April 18, 2023)
  • Length: 160 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982141509

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Raves and Reviews

“Elegantly translated from the French by Molly Ringwald, My Cousin Maria Schneider is both a beautiful eulogy and a much-needed corrective — an opportunity to finally set the record straight... a generous account of a rare and complicated cinematic star.”—Thessaly La Force, The New York Times

"“The new memoir My Cousin Maria Schneider, by Vanessa Schneider, Maria’s 17-year-younger relative and a veteran journalist for Le Monde, tells a nuanced tale of what it was like to orbit Maria, a “precious, broken family jewel,' and is deftly translated from the French by Molly Ringwald, herself once a teenage acting sensation.”Air Mail

“The book, written in the present tense, as if Vanessa is writing directly to her cousin, has a sad immediacy. Still, there are wonderful moments of enduring joy, connection and discovery.”The Washington Post

"A terrific translation by fellow actress Ringwald makes this concise, harrowing book a powerful read."—Library Journal

"A touching tribute... Maria Schneider, with all her adventures and struggles, deserves to be better remembered, and her cousin shows us why. This stunning tale of Maria Schneider and her battles is stark yet consistently loving—and unforgettable."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Translated by actress Ringwald, this is an intriguing addition to the growing body of literature reexamining women's agency through a post-#MeToo lens.”Booklist

“With devastating power and great originality of style, this gorgeous memoir shows the film industry’s brutality toward young women and the ways in which shame can waft into a sensitive girl’s bedroom like a draft under a door. In Molly Ringwald’s luminous translation, Vanessa Schneider’s love letter to her famous actress cousin—and to her own 1970s French bohemian childhood—delivers the emotional impact of great fiction while also faithfully telling an important true-life story about misogyny in our time.”
—Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can’t Sleep and Also a Poet

"Composed like a posthumous love letter to her cousin, Vanessa Schneider's memoir captures their sisterly bond with tenderness and grace. It is an exquisite portrait of a tragic heroine, whose story offers a heartrending example of the cruelty of powerful men”Violaine Huisman, author of The Book of Mother

"Bertolucci made Maria Schneider a star and ruined her life when he cast her in Last Tango in Paris (1972). At 19, she was an authentic sensation and the hottest thing on screen. She was also an exploitable sex object—Bertolucci and Brando, Maria’s co-star, never told her that Brando was going to shove butter between her legs—and the butt of a very dirty joke. Aided by translator Molly Ringwald (who understands better than most how perilous the film business can be for young actresses), Vanessa tells Maria’s story with empathy and indignation. By the end of the book, the reader understands what it’s like to live a life in which public and private, personality and persona violently clash, a life without a safety net."—Lili Anolik, author of Hollywood's Eve

"In this lovingly written memoir we read our way through the operatic coming of age story of Maria Schneider, the young French actor, who dives gracefully into the combat zone of the extremely competitive film industry, surfaces many times, and then loses sight of land in her own struggle with drugs. I had to know, had to read about Maria as told by her younger, adoring and devoted cousin, Vanessa."—Deborah Harry, author of Face It, co-founder and frontwoman of Blondie

"Misogyny haunts Vanessa Schneider’s gently disturbing memoir. As she grows up alongside her older movie star cousin, Maria Schneider, she grapples with a world that valorizes Maria’s onscreen rape by one of Hollywood’s greatest legends. Molly Ringwald’s translation from the French bears witness to an intimate and delicate reckoning. May all the girls we didn’t protect haunt us forever."—Writer Director Stewart Thorndike

International praise for My Cousin Maria Schneider

“Schneider breathes life back into Maria through this beautiful text—a story with its share of joys and monsters, where emotion is always just beneath the surface.”—Marie-France

“An elegy that never gushes... taut with restrained emotion.”Livres Hebdo

“A devastating book.”—Vogue France

“As disturbing as it is moving, this book reminds us that Maria Schneider was also, beyond the legend, a woman full of life.”—Madame

“Vanessa Schneider’s writing rings strong and true.”—Challenges

“An incredibly moving love letter.”—Le Figaro

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