How We Lived On It (55) – La chanson d’hélène


Romy Schneider
Romy Schneider (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have missed it, my retrospective on the artistry of French filmmaker Claude Sautet appears in the current issue of Senses of Cinema. During Sautet’s 1970s peak, his female muse was Austrian actress Romy Schneider, who appeared memorably in five of his films, winning France’s Cesar Award for best actress for the 1978 A Simple Story. Like a lot of younger and older men in those days, I fell in love with Romy Schneider, who was then still in her thirties. It seems Sautet, too, artistically and paternally, was more than a little in love with her. After Schneider’s ex-husband committed suicide in 1979, and her fourteen-year-old son died in a freak accident in 1981, the actress drank heavily and died of an apparent heart attack in her sleep within a year. She was 43. Sautet’s career went into decline after her death, only to revive in the last decade of his life in the 1990s.

Another great artist associated with Schneider is French actor Alain Delon. Delon and Scheider were lovers for five years and engaged to be married when both were very young and early in their careers. They remained friends and acted together even after the split, and when Schneider died, it was Delon who arranged to have her son, David, reburied beside her. In June 1982, less than two weeks after her death, Delon, who, now 77, says Schneider was the love of his life, published in Paris Match, a long love letter to her. It ended

My Puppelé, I look at you again and again. I want to devour you with my eyes, and tell you again and again that you’ve never been so beautiful and calm. Rest. I’m here. I learned a little German, with you. Ich liebe dich. I love you. I love you my Puppelé.

When Schneider was paid homage at the 2008 Cesar Awards, it was Delon who accepted the honor on her behalf.

The music for Schneider and Sautet’s first collaboration, The Things of Life, in which Schneider’s Helene loses her love in an auto accident just as he is about to return to her, was scored by the great French film composer Philippe Sarde. The film’s love theme was set to words and recorded as “La chanson d’hélène.” Schneider and her co-star, Michel Piccoli performed it on French television. Here it is sung over scenes of the two from the film. I like this version best, film of Schneider and Piccoli recording the song in the studio. Schneider’s voice is tenderly childlike and fragile.

This contemporary version, by Korean jazz singer Youn Sun Nah, is sung to puppetry and dance. I have not been able to identify the filmmaker, puppeteer, or dancers.

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