1- Maria Casares (1922 – 1996)
Maria Casares was blessed with one of the most expressive faces in film history. She made her debut in The Children of Paradis (above left) as the third in the love triangle with Arletty as Garance and Jean-Louis Barrault as Baptiste. Not a bad start to a career in French film! Her portrayal of Nathalie, the unloved wife is truly heartbreaking. And her line at the end, ‘Et moi, Baptiste? Et moi?’, is unforgettable. On the other end of the spectrum is her other most famous role, that of intransigent and yet love-sick Death in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (above right)
2 – Tatsuya Nakadai (b. 1932)
Tatsuya Nakadai is an important leading man in Japanese film. He has worked with Akira Kurosawa in Yojimbo, Sanjuro, as the super cool detective in High and Low, as the Emperor’s double in Kagemusha, and most famously as the King Lear figure in Ran (above left).
His work with Mikio Naruse include When a Woman Climbs the Stairs (above left) and Daughter, Wife, Mother and plays on his dreamboat good looks and ability to play complex young men.
He also has the distinction of having the starring role in what Guinness calls the longest film ever made: Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition. That film, comprised of three 3 hour+ films is a depiction of the Japanese involvement in Manchuria during World War II and Nakadai is our Everyman guide through the Hell of that world.
3 – Hanna Schygulla (b. 1943)
Schygulla was the muse of Rainer Werner Fassbinder much in the way Marlene Dietrich was the muse of Josef Von Sternberg. He even directed her in a film called Lili Marleen about the song that Dietrich made so famous during World War II. Her breakthrough performance came in Fassbinder’s Kabuki-like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (above Left), but the role she will be forever remembered for is as Maria Braun, the ultimate symbol of German survival during the War and the embodiment of the Economic Miracle of the 1950s in The Marriage of Maria Braun.
I will always have a twinge of ‘Ah, what might have been’ when I think of Schygulla. For me, one of the great unmade films is Sophie’s Choice with her in the title role. Of course, Sophie went to Meryl Streep who was swell, but, alas…..
4 – Gunnar Björnstrand (1909 – 1986)
I have remarked before that it seems like the great auteur directors do best when working with a small, loyal group of actors. (See this post for more on this topic)
Ingmar Bergman is certainly a prime example of this, and Gunnar Björnstrand is one of the actors from whom he evinced amazing performances. His range, even just within the Bergman universe, is impressive. The caustic, humanist Squire in The Seventh Seal (above left), is the perfect counterweight to the naïve and tortured Knight played by Max Von Sydow. In this surprisingly funny film, he provides most of the humor, as well as a strong dose of reality in his dealing with the canvas of the apocalyptic Medieval Sweden he and the knight are travelling through.
He is magnificent, if wholly unsympathetic as the Lutheran pastor who is losing his faith before our eyes in the real-time morality story Winter Light (above right).
He also shows a deft hand at light comedy most notably as the frustrated lawyer Egermann in Smiles of a Summer Night and as the husband of Eva Dahlbeck in Waiting Women.