Combing the beach for joie de vivre

Marie Bäumer has been compared to Romy Schneider for so long that it was really only a question of time that she would play her. Emily Atef’s black-and-white 3 Days in Quiberon uses that likeness to great effect, so much so that when I picked the stills for this post, I had to check twice which actor I was looking at. The movie revolves around Schneider’s stay in a rehab resort on the French coast in March 1981, where she wants to give an interview to journalist Michael Jürgs from the German magazine Stern. It seems to be shot at least partly in its original locations. There is history between her and her favorite photographer Robert Lebeck, and she asks one of her friends, Hilde Fritsch, to come and keep her company. For Schneider, any interview was a double-edged sword because she inevitably would be asked about leaving Germany for France, the suicide of her first husband and the custody battle for her son, and of course about the Sissi trilogy. On the other hand, she was eager to go on making movies.

Other aspects of the movie are less obvious. How good a friend was Hilde Fritsch (Birgit Minichmayr)? There are hints that Schneider and Fritsch haven’t seen each other in a long time, and that Fritsch doesn’t know that Schneider can’t stop smoking and drinking. Is Fritsch only there so that Schneider isn’t alone? She intuits that the interview is a bad idea. She is right: Jürgs (Robert Gwisdek) asks the same damning questions as every other tabloid journalist so that Schneider has to use verbal self-defense, but is hurt nonetheless. It would take three Hilde Fritsches to save Romy Schneider from herself.

The real Michael Jürgs, still a journalist and author, has complained that he didn’t behave like an asshole during the interview (“You are the trigger for public scandal.”). Jürgs, in the movie, although he has a creepy side, does nothing that most other journalists in a room with Romy Schneider wouldn’t do, which is bad enough in itself; it’s how his questions land on Schneider that slights her. A few questions into the interview, she suggests that they go into the village, and they find a restaurant with a private birthday party, and the barkeeper wants to send them away, until he realizes who she is. They order champagne, and Romy starts working the room. It’s not hard for her, because all she has to do is to turn up, and people will flock around her. Even the local poet asks her about Sissy, not about the countless French art-house movies she has made. And the drunker she gets, the more charming she is: she plays the accordion and talks and talks while Jürgs listens and Lebeck takes pictures. Fritsch looks on in horror because she knows that Jürgs will use all of that in his article. Later in the film, Fritsch confronts her, and Schneider just shrugs. She regrets nothing. She might be on a serious downward spiral, but apologetic she isn’t.

The movie feels like chamber music because it’s about the main quartet Schneider, Jürgs, Lebeck and Fritsch, but there is a cameo by Denis Lavant as the poetic fisherman, and by Vicky Krieps as a chambermaid who finds Romy on the floor of her room, unconscious. The hints are there: the need for all-night partying and staying in bed all day, sleeping pills, alcohol, three packs of cigarettes a day. As soon as Fritsch contradicts Schneider, the two women part ways. The movie suggests that Schneider broke her ankle on purpose during the photo shoot on the rocks near the water so that she could return to Paris. It would be too far to suggest that the interview had some straightforward influence with her death a year later, but it was her last one, and it certainly didn’t help her.

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