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Germany never took Austrian screen queen Romy Schneider to heart during the adult phase of her career, and the entire nation seems to have been atoning for this cruel oversight ever since. For her fifth feature 3 Days in Quiberon, the Berlin-born, French-Iranian-American writer-director Emily Atef channels this collective guilt into a good-looking chamber drama based around a revelatory interview that Schneider gave to Stern magazine at a French health-spa hotel in 1981. It was one of her final media profiles, and one of her most emotionally raw. Just over a year later, she was found dead in her Paris apartment, killed by cardiac arrest at just 43.
An uncanny dead ringer for Schneider, Viennese actress Marie Bäumer has turned down previous offers to play the tragic diva, but Atef persuaded her with a juicy plum of a lead role. 3 Days in Quiberon gives Bäumer ample room to play flighty, brittle, defiant, needy, haughty, seductive and fifty shades of vulnerable. While technically a four-hander, this is really a one-woman show. But a single knockout performance does not make a compelling film, and Atef’s intimate psychodrama ultimately lacks the imaginative verve and narrative meat to fill its overlong running time.
RELEASE DATE Nov 30, 1999
Premiering in the main Berlin competition today ahead of an April domestic release, 3 Days in Quiberon should perform best in European markets where Schneider’s name still has currency. But in English-speaking territories and beyond, where she was only ever an exotic fringe star, theatrical interest will be a much tougher sell.
Stardom was thrust upon Schneider early. She was propelled to fame in the late 1950s thanks to her teenage breakthrough role as “Sissi“, the future Empress Elisabeth of Austria, in a trilogy of wholesome historical biopics. A doomed engagement to Alain Delon then drew her to Paris, where she worked with the likes of Orson Welles, Luchino Visconti, Claude Chabrol and Yves Montand. Her turbulent private life became a tabloid fixture in the 1960s and 1970s, her rocky marriages and alleged army of lovers subject to lurid sexist gossip in the media.
The lightly fictionalized real events depicted in 3 Days in Quiberon freeze-frame Schneider at an emotional low point late in her career. Still reeling from the suicide of her first husband, German actor-director Harry Meyen, and newly separated from her second, Daniel Basini, she is battling for custody of her 14-year-old son David. She is also suffering health problems, soon to have a cancerous kidney removed and trying to break her dependency on booze and sleeping pills. But not trying too hard.
In the middle of her lonely detox session at a hotel on the Brittany coast, Schneider summons her old Austrian friend Hilde Fritsch (Birgit Minichmayr) to lend moral support just as the two-man team from Stern arrives. She already shares a warm, flirtatious history with photographer Robert Lebeck (Charly Hübner), but reporter Michael Jürgs (Robert Gwisdek) is more antagonistic, unsettling his starry interviewee with intrusive questions and subtle mind games. Over three days together, her mood swings from elated to prickly to suicidally depressed, and back again. Her chain-smoking, pill-popping and illicit boozing do not help.
With a script firmly rooted in the Jürgs interview, and a handsome monochrome look modeled closely on Lebeck’s extensive photo sessions, 3 Days in Quiberon is technically impressive as a piece of forensic historical reconstruction. But as engrossing drama, it runs out of juice around the midway point. While it may have been deemed revealing at the times, Schneider’s confessional soul-baring feels fairly tame today, and just not that interesting almost 40 years later. Even for film journalists like me, whose job sometimes involves interviewing stars, the ethical challenges around the process are simply not that profound.
Because Atef resists the temptation to embroider or fabricate, as Peter Morgan did in Frost/Nixon and Cameron Crowe did in Almost Famous, she leaves herself scant room to make any deeper, more timely points about toxic celebrity culture or #MeToo media misogyny. Thus she is left with a prosaic exercise in superior docudrama which would have made a decent one-hour TV or radio play, but feels overstretched as a two-hour feature. That said, 3 Days in Quiberon does at least feature four fine lead performances, and looks sumptuous thanks to Thomas Kiennast’s elegant cinematography, a luminous canvas of silvery monochrome and crisp framing splashed by occasional bursts of authentically retro lens flare.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition)
Production companies: Rohfilm, Dor Filmproduktionsgesellschaft, Sophie Dulac Productions, Departures Film, Tita B Productions
Cast: Marie Bäumer, Birgit Minichmayr, Charly Hübner, Robert Gwisdek, Denis Lavant, Yann Grouhel
Director, screenwriter: Emily Atef
Producer: Karsten Stöter
Cinematographer: Thomas W. Kiennast
Editor: Hansjörg Weissbrich
Music: Christoph M. Kaiser, Julian Maas
Sales company: Beta Cinema, Germany
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