Filmmaker and artist Elisabeth Subrin's The Listening Takes (2023) presents three portraits of the subversive French actress Maria Schneider (1952–2011) within an immersive sound, video, and sculptural installation. Collaborating with the women who portray Maria (internationally acclaimed actress Manal Issa, and Aïssa Maïga and Isabel Sandoval, who are celebrated directors and actresses), The Listening Takes focuses on Schneider's refusal within a 1983 interview to discuss her controversial lead role opposite Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972) and the non-consensual sex scene that she was subjected to on the set. As she articulates her perspective as a woman within the film industry, Schneider reveals a devastating prescience about the ways women are defined within and beyond cinema. Filmed for both black box theater and multi-channel gallery presentations, Subrin's project untethers Schneider from Tango and allows the nuances of Maria's interview to be reimagined within three extraordinary performances, each generously listening, and holding space, for one another.
"A biographical subject is not temporally or cohesively defined; it moves through the bodies of both those who write it, and those who read it. At its core, a biography is a multiplicity; collectively written and cross-historical." – Elisabeth Subrin
Throughout her three-decade career, Subrin has focused on the representation of women by deploying a strategy she terms "speculative biography." With subjects ranging from photographer Francesca Woodman (1958–1981) to radical feminist Shulamith Firestone (1945–2012), she presents the archive as a fractured, unreliable source, and uses re-enactment and repetition as tools to unravel dominant narratives that have calcified around these women. Meticulously replicating clothing, sets, film stock, graphics, and sound design, Subrin crafts a simulacra of the original person, down to the cadence of their speech. The French translation and subtitles within The Listening Takes evolve across the three performances, reflecting colloquial language that moves subtly between between 1983 and the present day. The actresses rehearsed extensively to align their vocal rhythms with Schneider and one another, the slight variances providing a kind of friction that heightens the affective dimensions of each performance. These alternative inflections reveal Maria as a "multiplicity," according to Subrin, that resists the sticky residue of exploitation and trauma that defined her career post-Tango.
When casting The Listening Takes, Subrin intentionally sought actresses who have been forthright in their activism:
"On the red carpet at Cannes in 2018, Manal, born in Lebanon, held a handwritten sign over her head that said 'Stop the attack on Gaza' to highlight the devastating and continuous destruction of Palestinians' lives. At the 2020 Cesar Awards, Aïssa Maïga, who was born in Senegal, delivered a very controversial and courageous condemnation of the French film industry for their, frankly, racism. Isabel Sandoval, from the Philippines, is breaking new ground as a celebrated trans director and is vocal about the limitations of transgender representation in the media, as well as condemning violence against Asian communities. I wanted to expand Maria’s critique to create a more dimensional and diverse examination of what actresses, and by extension, most women, experience daily."
Issa, Maïga, and Sandoval were invited by Subrin to use their own experiences in the film industry to infuse their performances, embodying Schneider through an intersection of subjectivities.
Featured on the French television show Cinéma Cinémas, Maria's original interview has a tone of evasive exhaustion, due to a decade of repeatedly avoiding questions about her experience on Tango's set. Framed by a bistro corner of beveled glass, Maria is physically and emotionally refracted, yet defiant. Subrin amplifies this resistance within The Listening Takes by offering Schneider (performed by Sandoval in English) an alternative history, one where she asserts her experience on Bertolucci's set as a form of rape, a forceful closure to that moment and its reverberance on her life. The camera then pans to the studio and to the artificiality of the production, as the soundscape evolves into woven excerpts of dialogue from The Passenger, the 1975 Michelangelo Antonioni film that Schneider often spoke of as the performance "truest to herself."
When navigating the Bell installation, viewers find themselves reflected within the camera's frame. Subrin has installed a grid of mirrors on the back of each projection wall, providing moments of fracture between the screen and gallery. Decreasingly distressed to evoke the passage of time, the weathered glass dissolves past and present, inviting Schneider's language into contemporary conversations around sexual misconduct in the workplace. The Listening Takes shifts Subrin's lens-based practice more deeply into sculptural and sound installation, physically reflecting her use of cross-historical and psychological repetition in film and further complicating notions of biography, portraiture, and the legacy of trauma and resilience.
– Kate Kraczon, Director of Exhibitions and Chief Curator, Brown Arts Institute / David Winton Bell Gallery
Elisabeth Subrin is a New York-based award-winning director and artist who creates works in film, video, photography, and installation. Her critically acclaimed projects explore intersections between cultural history and subjectivity through a feminist lens. Known for her use of re-enactment, Subrin’s previous short films, video art, and installations have screened and exhibited widely in the US and abroad, including at Cannes, Film Society of Lincoln Center, The Vienna Viennale, The Whitney Biennial, and film festivals globally. A Sundance Fellow, Subrin’s 2016 award-winning feature narrative, A Woman, A Part, had its world premiere in competition at The Rotterdam International Film Festival and traveled to festivals throughout Europe, the United States, and Asia. It was released theatrically in 2017. A retrospective of her work as an artist was mounted at the Sue Scott Gallery in New York and portions traveled to MoMA/PS1’s Greater New York; The Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh; La Musée D’Art Contemporain de Val De Marne, Paris; The Haggerty Museum, Milwaukee; and in a solo exhibition at The Jewish Museum, New York.
Maria Schneider, 1983 (2022)
A Woman, A Part (2016)
Damage Report (2014)
Shulie: Film and Stills (2011)
Lost Tribes and Promised Lands (2010)
The Mixed Up Files of Ms. Francesca Woodman (2010)
Sweet Ruin (2008)
The Caretakers (2006)
Well, Well, Well (2002)
The Fancy (2000)
Manal Issa is an award-winning French-Lebanese actress. In 2006, while studying industrial engineering in Angers, she was spotted by director Danielle Arbid for the main part in Peur de Rien for which she won the best actress award at the Festival des Arcs. Next, Bertrand Bonello chose her for Nocturama, which screened in many international festivals, including Toronto and San Sebastian. In 2017, living between Paris and Beirut, Issa made 5 films: The Bra by Veit Helmer, Ulysse et Mona by Sébastien Betbeder, Deux Fils by Félix Moati, Une Jeunesse Dorée by Eva Ionesco, and My Favorite Fabric by Gaya Jiji, selected for Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2018. In 2019, she starred in Memory Box by Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas. In 2020, she played the lead in Ely Dhager's The Sea Ahead, premiering at the Director's Fortnight, Cannes, and starred in Follia by Charles Guérin Surville. In 2021, she co-starred with her sister in the globally acclaimed Netflix film The Swimmers, by Sally El Hosaini, which had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Also in 2021, she played the lead in The Anger by Maria Surae. In 2022 she starred in Black Box, directed by Asli Özge. Now based in Beirut, she is shooting several films and completing her own screenplay.
The public discovered Aïssa Maïga in Russian Dolls, directed by Cédric Klapisch. Her next role as a singer in Bamako, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, earned her a César nomination for Best Newcomer. She is equally recognized as a comedic actress in French comedies which have earned her international acclaim and a large Netflix audience. Building on her international appeal, she has been chosen for lead dramatic roles such as The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by Nigerian-English actor and director Chiwetel Ejiofor. Aïssa Maïga stepped behind the camera in 2018, co-directing with Isabelle Simeoni the Canal Plus television hit Regard Noir, a documentary roadmovie. The film deals with the place Black women hold in fiction and the possible solutions for inclusion of all talents. Marcher sur l'eau (Above Water), Aïssa Maïga's first feature-length documentary, examines the issue of drought due to global warming in Western Africa. Marcher sur l'eau was chosen as an official selection at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, in the category of "Cinema for Climate," and won numerous awards in several film festivals. Her fiction début, Noh Feminist, is a short film that premiered at the 2022 Cannes International Film Festival.
Director, actress, writer, producer, and editor Isabel Sandoval is a Filipina filmmaker who made history with Lingua Franca at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival, which was nominated for the 2021 Film Independent John Cassavetes Spirit Award. Isabel was the 21st commission of the acclaimed short-film series Miu Miu Women's Tales with her short, Shangri-La, which was directed, acted, written, and edited by Sandoval. Sandoval has most recently directed the penultimate episode of the Emmy-nominated FX limited series, Under the Banner of Heaven, based on the book by Jon Krakauer. Sandoval made her directorial debut with the noir-inflected Señorita, which world-premiered in competition at the Locarno Film Festival and earned her the Emerging Director Award at the Asian American International Film Festival. Her second feature as director was the Ferdinand Marcos-era nun drama Apparition, which won the Lotus Audience Award at the Deauville Asian Film Festival following its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival.
Actress Maria Schneider (1952–2011) embodied the woman actor of her times (smart, eroticized, objectified), but she was also an out bisexual, a feminist, and an astute, prescient critic of the film world she inhabited and resisted. An untrained French actress who left home at fifteen and was mentored by Brigitte Bardot, at 20 she became a global sensation in Bernardo Bertolucci's sexually explicit 1972 film Last Tango in Paris, which she later said was a deeply traumatic experience. Nevertheless, she continued to star in films throughout the 1970s and 1980s, working with celebrated European directors such as Michelangelo Antonioni, René Clement, Nouchka Van Brakel, Phillipe Garrel, and Jacques Rivette. However, the impact of Tango cost her greatly, both emotionally and professionally. She turned down many roles, refusing to be objectified by the camera. In the 1970s, Schneider struggled with drugs, alcohol and suicide attempts, before pulling her life together again in the 1980s with the help of her life partner, Maria Pia Crapanzano. Schneider continued to work steadily throughout her life before passing away at 58 after a long battle with cancer. She was instrumental in assisting elderly French actors without resources and advocating for better roles for older actresses. In 2010, soon before she died, Schneider was awarded the French medal of Chevalier, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, for her contributions to the arts. She is survived by Crapanzano, with whom she lived for 31 years.
French production company, 5 à 7 Films, was founded in 2015 by Martin Bertier and Helen Olive who share a passion for inspiring auteur-driven films, varied in their content and form that explore humanity in all its forms. They are known for defending ground-breaking and challenging works that blur the boundaries between cinema, documentary and art. They foster both emerging and established talent with powerful, unique and diverse voices. Their films have been selected and awarded in the world’s top festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Locarno and New York, released in cinemas around the world, and broadcast on TV and streaming platforms.
Production Design: Simon Harding
Editing: Jenn Ruff
Sound mix: Lucien Richardson
Mirror treatments: Frank Hippel
Producers: Helen Olive & Martin Bertier, 5à7 Films, Paris
Cinematography: Pascale Marin
Production Design: Valérie Valero
Costume Design: Corrine Bruand
Editing: Jenn Ruff
Sound Recording and Credits Collage: Nassim El Mounnabih
Sound Design: Abigail Savage
Sound mix: Lucien Richardson
Hair: Nadine Mateky-Banzouzi
Make up: Sofia Maiche
Associate Producers: Olive Creamer, Daniella Shreir
David Winton Bell Gallery / Brown Arts Institute
New York State Council on the Arts
Union Docs Center for Documentary Arts
Temple University Vice Provost for the Arts
Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée
Fonds LIG / Lesbiennes d'Intérêt Général
Based on an interview by Anne Andreu and Raoul Sangla for Cinéma Cinémas.
The exhibition team at the Brown Arts Institute includes Susana Turbay Botero, Curatorial Fellow; Ian Budish, Exhibitions Installation Manager; Preparators Murphy Chang, Naushon Hale, and Ben Kaplan; Thea Quiray Tagle, Associate Curator; Sofía Retta, Curatorial Assistant; and Nicole Wholean, University Curator and Registrar. Special thanks to Shawn Tavares, Technical Coordinator, for his generous support of this exhibition. Additional support was provided by preparators Sylvia Atwood and Wes Sanders, and technical support by Michael Bullock and Rob Houllahan.
Pictured above: Aïssa Maïga in The Listening Takes
Pictured on homepage: Manal Issa in The Listening Takes