Gay Icon: Romy Schneider

Romy Schneider is a cinematic icon. Wait. Who? Rob Schneider? Romy. Schneider, Romy Schneider. She was an Austrian-born actress who held German and French citizenship. (Yes, I read Wikipedia. Just like all of you out there.)

Born Rosemarie Magdalena Albach, Romy Schneider is a notable name in European cinema. She started her acting career in Germany, eventually making the Sissi trilogy in Austria. The Disney-esque trilogy became Romy’s trademark role.
(But why did they make such a big fuss about this Sissi woman? Why not? She was the Empress of Austria, hence a very important Austrian. That’s why they have to make a movie about her, a trilogy to be exact, just as Italian-Americans had to make a trilogy about Michael Corleone.)

After falling in love with Alain Delon, Romy spent most of her career in France, where she is probably remembered for her films with Claude Sautet: Les choses de la vie, César et Rosalie, Une histoire simple, etc.

Romy Schneider by Robert Lebeck
Romy in Le vieux fusil

Le sourire de Romy

Romy on the set of Max et les Ferrailleurs

Without further ado, Romy is also considered a gay icon, a dykon to be exact. Well-versed lesbians know her as the hopeless romantic Manuela von Meinhardis in 1958’s Mädchen in Uniform, or as the bisexual title character in La banquière a.k.a. The Lady Banker.

Mädchen in Uniform is a remake of the groundbreaking 1931 film. Comprised of an all-female cast, both films tell the story of a young unrequited love a student has for her teacher.

Romy Schneider and Lilli Palmer in Mädchen in Uniform

Romy and Lilli behind the scenes

As Manuela, Romy is shy, sensitive, and dreamy — a complete contrast to Lilli Palmer’s emotionally reserved Elisabeth von Bernburg.

Even by today’s prudish standards, the two Mädchens — both feminist in their essence — are still controversial; exploring themes such as lesbianism, age difference, and student-teacher romance.

Excerpts from Mädchen in Uniform:

Just like the lead actresses in the original Mädchen, Romy — and Lilli — was brave to play a character who refused to be bound and gagged by heterosexist standards. Here’s an actress who didn’t care about the possibility that playing a gay woman could ruin her then-burgeoning career. All she cared about is giving life to a human character who happens to be head-over-heels in love with another human being.

Romy with Noëlle Châtelet in La banquière

In one of her last films, 1980’s La banquière, Romy played another gay character; this time that of a bisexual financier named Emma Eckhert.

A somewhat feminist movie, La banquière is a rags-to-riches story, the fall and rise and fall of a courageous woman who defied sexism. The film is quite long and somewhat tedious, to the point of it not knowing what it really wants to say.

Romy with Marie-France Pisier in La banquière

Earlier part of the film introduces us to Romy’s Emma, a supposedly lesbian woman who falls for a guy. (Sounds like Chasing Amy.) Enter the guy’s wife: Colette (Marie-France Pisier), a woman who is more devoted to her husband’s mistress than to her own husband.

So ano ‘yun? Open marriage. Could be. Looks like it. The film doesn’t know either. Francis Girod, the film’s director, asks this question without knowing its answer. Seems like he himself was confused whilst making the film.

Later in the film, Girod implies that Emma and Colette are in a romantic friendship but seemed hesitant to delve deeper into the notion, which leaves the audience a bit dumbfounded. He might have thought: “Here’s a feminist movie, we might as well make the lead character lesbian and then bisexual… no, wait, let’s not. Ah! F*ck it.

The Emma and Colette storyline reminds me of Faye Dunaway’s line in Network:
I’m thinking of doing a homosexual soap opera. The Dykes. The heart-rending saga about a woman hopelessly in love with her husband’s mistress.

Excerpts from La banquière, with rough translation:

Notwithstanding the film’s flaws, La banquière is still quite an important film. It was able to say: “Just because you’re a woman, a gay woman that is, doesn’t mean you cannot succeed in your chosen field, no matter how patriarchal it is.
Romy is convincing as a gay woman. She flirts with her smiling eyes, seducing gay and straight women. Her character is an alpha, a personality that is rare in a woman during the ’30s (majority of the film’s setting).
So here’s to Romy, an actress who liked to give life to human characters, no matter how gay they are. Mädchen in Uniform and La banquière are great contributions to the LGBT cinema, and to the LGBT community as well. Thanks for making those films, Romy!
Now here’s some rather gay moment featuring Romy and Melina Mercouri. An excerpt from 10:30 P.M. Summer. Filmed in English, but the audio is in Spanish:

Author’s note: For some reason, the first two videos might not appear/play on your browser.

DISCLAIMER: No copyright infringement intended. I don’t own or claim to own any of the clips or photos used.


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