Saturday, 21 August 2010

Portrait: Marisa Berenson

Marisa Berenson in 2008 at the National Board of Review Awards

Marisa Berenson starred in three iconic films from the 1970s, Death in Venice (Lucchino Visconti, 1971), Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972), and Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975). Although originally a model rather than a trained actress by profession, in all three roles Berenson more than lives up to the part. However, particularly her part in Barry Lyndon Lyndon has often been underrated by critics - as has the entire film - and her passive melancholy mistaken for a lack of acting skills, though this passive melancholy is precisely what her character, Lady Lyndon, is all about. It didn't help, that Barry Lyndon was beautifully photographed - the images by John Alcott are now legend - and that Marisa got to wear the most sumptuous 18th century costumes, as both were immediately linked to her other career as a fashion model and as a result, her acting was overlooked - unjustly so. However, it can't be denied that the ethereal aspect of her beauty was an added quality to Lady Lyndon's character, and with a face like Marisa's, it is difficult to imagine another actress playing that part.

Marisa Berenson in Barry Lyndon

On the other hand, her performance in Cabaret, in which she plays the Jewish department store heiress, Natalia Landauer, won critical acclaim and she was nominated as Best Supporting Actress at both the Golden Globes and The Baftas. In Death in Venice, based on Thomas Mann's novel, Marisa's part was relatively small. Playing the wife to Dirk Bogarde's Gustav von Aschenbach, she is only seen in a flashback that is not in Mann's book. But similarly to Barry Lyndon, Marisa's melancholy beauty - which makes her the perfect tragedienne - was an added characteristic to both parts.

Marisa Berenson as Natalia Landauer in Cabaret

Marisa Berenson was born in New York City in 1947 to Robert L. Berenson, an American diplomat, and Countess Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor, the daughter of fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Marisa grew up in the US and France, was sent to boarding school in England and is fluent in several languages. She started her modelling career in 1964 with an introduction from her maternal grandmother, Elsa Schiaparelli. Marisa's sister was the photographer Berinthia, called Berry Berenson-Perkins - the widow of actor Anthony Perkins - and was one of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Berry was in flight 11 on her way from Boston to Los Angeles to see her son when her plane got hi-jacked and subsequently smashed into the World Trade Center.

Marisa Berenson divides her time between New York City and Paris.

Marisa Berenson, seen here with Betty Catroux - the muse of the late Yves Saint Laurent - and fashion designer Diane von Fuerstenberg

Marisa on the cover of the September issue of British Vogue, 1968

Marisa Berenson in the 1970s