Timeless Yves Saint Laurent: Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”

Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

There is this feeling you often get from Claude Sautet’s films, indicating that his protagonists are always among us. Sautet seeks out the remains of humanity in his characters, regardless of their past and crimes. It is an intimate and well-crafted world and what I love so much about his films is that they are about real life, about things we have lived, about things that can happen to us, about how people treat each other in a close relationship. They have heart, they are realistic. We identify easily with the characters, with how they feel, act, dress. Even with Lino Ventura’s gangster, Abel Davos, in Sautet’s extraordinary debut film, Classe tous risques (1960). Lino Ventura is a doomed man on the run, he has a sad, liven-in face. His clothes look lived-in, too. His trousers and jacket reflect his turmoil and disrupted life. Only when he goes off to settle matters with his former partners he puts on a trench coat. He has to look like he means business, because he does, and his children are his only drive. He can not escape his fate, but he must do right by his children. There is nothing more powerful than that.

Romy Schneider and Sami Frey in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

In César et Rosalie (1972), Romy Schneider is Rosalie, a beautiful young woman involved with a successful businessman, César (Yves Montand), but when she crosses paths with a former lover, David (Sami Frey), she doesn’t know who she loves anymore. But she loves life, she loves her big family and she may love both David and César. It is an interesting and observant story about the social and class changes of the 1970s, a bittersweet portrait of France in the ‘70s, about the struggle to leave behind the bourgeoisie ways and breaking away, about the way you change or don’t in life. Romy Schneider and Claude Sautet worked together on five films and she won the César award for her role in Une histoire simple (1978). She was a great character actor, easily taking on challenging parts. Her ability to change was unbelievable. She had a magnetic presence and beauty. And her talent shone even brighter than her beauty. It is her collective performances that have cemented her name, more than her beauty, more than the personal heartbreaks and tragedies that marked her life. It is the character of Rosalie however that came very close to her personality I believe, and, dressed in Yves Saint Laurent, Romy is the personification of the modern woman.

“I tried to escape from this straitjacket, from this little narrow world,” Schneider said when she moved to Paris. “I wanted to get away from this routine I had in Germany. Paris was a new world, a new life. I needed this freedom and I made the most of it.” She credited her transformation to three people: Alain Delon, Coco Chanel and Luchino Visconti (in Boccaccio ’70, dressed in Chanel, she gave one of her best performances). Chanel gave her the look. But it was in Yves Saint Laurent that Romy could find her innate sense of style and the liberty to roam free. Because Romy embodied this modern woman who embraced the times, life, the street wise. She was this free spirit, determined but fragile, flawed but real, mysterious but very human, this natural, untamed beauty that never seemed to find what she was looking for, but, who, dressed in simple, timeless clothes, looked a little closer to that kind of complete freedom that always seemed to escape her.

Michel Piccoli, who starred alongside Romy in a few films, including films directed by Claude Sautet, said in an interview for L’Express: “Romy is the most worried, fragile, uncertain actress I have ever met. Thanks to Claude and me, she had found a couple of men who managed to secure her, amuse her and give her self-confidence. I even went so far as to prank her so that she was more relaxed.” He went on recounting how “like a couple who loves each other after twenty years of living together, we manage to amaze each other. With Romy, it is an energy exchanged at every moment…”

Romy Schneider and Yves Montand in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Yves Saint Laurent created a new kind of luxury that had nothing to do with made-to-measure and everything to do with ready-to-wear. He liberated fashion, and, by that, he liberated women. “Yves Saint Laurent had a 50-50 deal with the street. Half of the time he is inspired by the street, and half of the time the street gets its style from Yves Saint Laurent,” said Diana Vreeland in 1983. He placed his belief in the street and gave the women in the whole world the passport to style. He believed only in style, that’s his greatest contribution to fashion.

Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Saint Laurent was also an astute film costume designer, the greatest cinephile among the fashion designers, is how François Truffaut named him. He “really understood what cinema costumes had to be like, and he designed them both for their movement and style.” In César et Rosalie, Romy looks good in her YSL clothes, but, what’s more important, the clothes fit the character. The sheer dress with long billowy sleeves, the feminine/masculine shirts and blouses, the trench coat, the pleated black dress again with long sleeves and deep neckline, the blue jeans, the pea coat, the roller-necks, the safari jacket, the scarf, le smoking (see last image to this article). Items that he worked to perfection collection after collection, convincing fashion and women that they don’t have to change their wardrobe season after season. He gave them style. “For me, the avant-garde is classicism,” it was his belief. In cinema, too, he left a particular mark, which testifies to his great ability to understand an era and the modern woman.

Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Not only does Rosalie know what the modern woman wants in terms of style, but she knows what she wants her modern man to wear, too. We see that from the way she gives César, who is older than her, advice about what he should wear. Not that his clothes aren’t put together – whether his grey flannel striped suit, or black suit, knitted tie and white shirt, or his weekend camel corduroy jacket, or his trench coat, his clothes are staples of men’s wardrobe. He just seems to abide by some certain rules.

On the other hand, with David, who is about the same age as her, Rosalie is not that particular, she is much more at ease, she’s comfortable with the way he dresses, because she sees a match in his own clothes, simple, classic yet modern; she feels they’re on the same level. His clothes are no less classic than César’s, but he wears them more effortlessly, he easily forgoes the tie, and he definitely prefers blue jeans to suits. With him, Rosalie seems much more comfortable in breaking conventions. She is even okay with swapping her elegant (regardless of how minimalist they are) dresses with a simple white t-shirt and jeans when she leaves César and goes away with David, both broke and having to work serving tables in a café. She isn’t afraid to embrace change. Nor was Yves Saint Laurent.

Sami Frey in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Yves Montand in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”, 1972 | Fildebroc, Mega Film, Paramount-Orion Filmproduktion

Editorial sources: The Films in My Life, by François Truffaut / Yves Saint Laurent, published by Foundation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint / Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, by Lisa Immordino Vreeland
More stories: Style in film: Romy Schneider in La piscine / The French Noir Anti-Hero and the Trench Coat / Catherine Deneuve in Yves Saint Laurent in Belle de jour

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