Actor-director Maximilian Schellís film "My Sister Maria" about his older sister, actress Maria Schell takes place at the end of her once glamorous life. This documentary cum drama focuses on the irony that Maria ends up living a very small life within the bedroom walls of her Austrian family home after her former life of wealth and fame.
Born in 1926 Maria Schell was a clear-eyed talented Alpine beauty with 70 European and American movies to her credit, a few which earned her best-actress awards at Cannes and at the Venice Film festival. Some of her most well-known films are "The Brothers Karmozov," "The Hanging Tree" with Gary Cooper, "The Last Bridge," "White Nights," and "Gervaise."
Max Schell intercuts dramatic scenes re-enacted by the real family members with clips from Mariaís movies. The dramatized scenes come off as stilted and hokey at times, like when the fawning paparazzi sneak in to shoot pictures of elderly Maria in her home. The most interesting part of the film was the evocative clips from Mariaís movies which show her talent for singing, dancing, and dramatic performance.
Maria is portrayed as a reclusive old woman who lays in bed watching her old films. She has a problem with compulsive over-spending which renders her destitute, and Max has to sell his Rothko painting to save her. A degenerative brain disorder renders her thinking distorted which culminates in her watching one of her brotherís old disaster films and believing it is real and that the world is ending.
There are a few messages in the film, but they were suggested and left undone, so itís hard to be sure what the messages were. Max and Maria talked about Mariaís serious suicide attempt. It was interesting to hear how the happiest times in Mariaís life were when she was newly in love and the saddest times were when she was married. This suggested that possibly she had the same emptiness throughout her life but it was just covered by the excitement of her career in the early days.
Some of the footage seemed like self-indulgent name dropping as if Max Schell couldnít believe how amazing their lives were at one time. At one point the camera pans from one family portrait to another and we learn details about each relative for no apparent reason.
It seems to me that a straight and shorter documentary could have been a lot more powerful than this jumbled mixture. The oddest part of this film was that Max Schell didnít seem to know how to end it; there were about five times that it seemed certain it was over. It was a relief when it finally was. The value in this film is learning about Maria Schell. But Iím not sure if the pain was worth it.
© 2004 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 08/04
My Sister Maria
Germany/Austria/Switzerland - 2002