Family & Companions
A petite, intense, slender, raven-haired Spanish stage actress whose career was focused primarily in France, Maria Casares made only minimal film appearances, but with memorable impact. The daughter of a Republican minister, she and her family fled to Paris at the advent of the Spanish Civil War. At that time, Casares spoke no French, yet within three years, she had enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire and by 1942 had her first notable stage triumph in John Millington Synge's "Deirdre of the Sorrows." Based on this success, she was offered the leading role in Albert Camus' "Le Malentendu" which led to a three-year relationship with the author. Even after the couple separated, Casares had played roles in two of his stage plays, "Etat de Siege" (1948) and "Les Justes" (1949). They remained on friendly terms until his death in an automobile accident in January 1960.
Once Casares had become established onstage, she began to receive film offers. Marcel Carne first cast her as the neglected wife of the mime Baptiste in his justly beloved period epic "Les enfants du paradis/Children of Paradise" (filmed 1943; released 1945). Also in 1945, Casares appeared in Robert Bresson's first notable film, the typically austere and penetrating "Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne." In an especially stunning performance, she was the Princess who embodied Death in Jean Cocteau's "Orphee/Orpheus" (1949), a role she recreated for Cocteau's "Le Testament d'Orphee/The Testament of Orpheus" (1960), not exactly a sequel but more of a revisitation of similar territory and a fascinating summary film of the director's oeuvre.
One of her first credits as narrator was for the documentary short "Guernica" (1949), co-directed by Alain Renais and Robert Hessens. Casares later lent her deep, impassioned voice to such efforts as "Hieronymous Bosch" (1950), "Les Jardins du Seigneur" (1955) and "Les rencontres de Merimee" (1970).
During most of the 1950s and 60s, Casares concentrated on her stage career. She won plaudits for her turn as "Jeanne d'Arc" in 1952 at the Comedie-Francaise. By the mid-50s, the actress had switched to the Theatre National Populaire where she scored personal triumphs in many of the classic tragic roles, like Phaedra and Medea; the company also embarked on a world tour that included London and New York. In 1966, Casares engendered controversy by appearing in a production of Genet's "Les Paravants," a biting satire of the French Army. Despite the right-wing opposition to the play, she won critical kudos and appeared in a 1983 revival staged by Patrice Chereau. In 1990, Casares appeared simultaneously in two productions: as Madame Pernelle in Moliere's "Tartuffe" and as the Pope in Genet's one-act "Elle." While her character in the former was off-stage, she would rush to a smaller studio to perform the latter, then would resume her role in the former. Three years later, she even tackled the title role in Shakespeare's "King Lear."
After a lengthy absence, Casares graced several films in the late 80s and into the 90s, including a maternal role in "De sable et de sang/Sand and Blood," (1988), a widow in "La Lectrice/The Reader" (also 1988), and her final screen role in which she gave a spirited, endearing performance as the offbeat hero's mother in "Someone Else's America" (1995).
Cast (Feature Film)
Immigrated to France following the advent of the Spanish Civil War
First major stage triumph, at the Theatre des Mathurins in a production of Synge's play, "Deirdre of the Sorrows"; was offered the leading role in Albert Camus' play, "Le Maletendu"
Worked as a stage actress with the Theatre des Mathurins
Release of first films: Marcel Carne's "Les enfants du paradis/Children of Paradise" and Robert Bresson's "Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne"
Played best-remembered feature film role, as the Princess in "Orphee/Orpheus", directed by Jean Cocteau
Began narrating short films and feature documentaries with her work on Alain Resnais' and Robert Hessens' short, "Guernica"
Gave an acclaimed performance in the title role of Charles Peguy's "Jeanne d'Arc" with the Comedie-Francaise
Worked with Jean Vilar at the Theatre National Populaire
Performed on the London stage with the Theatre National Populaire
Acted on Broadway with the Theatre National Populaire in a program consisting of works by Corneille, Marivaux and Victor Hugo
Returned to film acting after nearly a decade to reprise her role as the Princess in Jean Cocteau's "The Testament of Orpheus"
After six years with the Theatre National Populaire, worked primarily as a free agent onstage
Performed in Roger Blin's production of Jean Genet's play, "Les Paravents"
Made another one-shot return to film acting in "Flavia la monaca mussulmana", an Italian film directed by Gianfranco Mingozzi
Performed in a revival of Genet's "Les Paravents", directed by Patrice Chereau
Began acting more regularly in features with her role in "Blanche et Marie"
Performed two roles at the same time in two different theaters within the same complex: played Madame Pernelle in a production of Moliere's "Tartuffe" in the theater's main auditorium while dashing off during the middle section to play the Pope in Jean Genet's satirical one-act play, "Elle", in a smaller studio theater
Performed the title role in a stage production of "King Lear"
Last film, "Someone Else's America"
Last stage performance in Michael Ondaatje's "The Complete Works of Billy the Kid"; left the cast a few days before the scheduled end of the show's run due to fatigue from illness