Art & Photography / In Pictures

Nastassja Kinski

In celebration of Wim Wenders' birthday, we consider the defining moments from the career of an actress who's performed in some of his best-loved roles, Nastassja Kinski

Paris, Texas, 1984
Paris, Texas, 1984

Berlin-born beauty Nastassja Kinski has charmed viewers in a variety of roles, first making a name for herself as Roman Polanski's Tess in 1979 (and off-screen for her alleged underage affair with the notorious Polish-French director). But the doe-eyed actress arguably shines brightest in the part of Jane, the vivacious, abandoned wife of Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Staunton) in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. Here, in celebration of Wenders' birthday, and of Kinski herself, we consider her career and its defining moments.

Fittingly, it was Wenders’ wife who first discovered Kinski – dancing in a Munich disco, aged 12 – leading to the actress’ debut role in Wenders’ 1974 film Falsche Bewegung (The Wrong Move). The beguiling ingénue starred in a number of other films during the five years that followed but it was not until Polanski sought her out for Tess that she finally felt she was earning respect in her chosen career. “It gave me such dignity," she once recalled. Kinski went to great lengths to secure the part, including a five-month trial period spent in England learning to master the Wessex accent, but her hard work paid off and with Tess came international fame and a Golden Globe award to boot.

"Wenders’ wife first discovered Kinski – dancing in a Munich disco, aged 12 – leading to the actress’ debut role in Wenders’ 1974 film Falsche Bewegung"

Yet it was another five years, a few Hollywood films – including Paul Schrader’s erotic horror hit Cat People and Francis Ford Coppola’s One From The Heart – and a famous Richard Avedon shoot where she posed nude with a snake before Kinski was reunited with Wenders for Paris, Texas. In one of the film's most striking scenes Kinski wows, both visually and emotionally, as a sweetly smiling stripper at a Texas strip club where she is visited by (and talks unwittingly to) her estranged husband, whom she is unable to see through her alloted phone booth's one-way mirror. Throughout, she is dressed in a crimson, mohair jumper dress, courtesy of costume designer Birgitta Bjerke – a surprisingly luxurious and natural item given her setting, and symbolic in its covetable nature (the men can touch neither it nor her, as appealing as they both may be). It is arguably one of the most iconic pieces of clothing in contemporary cinema.

Since her Paris, Texas days Kinski has continued to act, but with less voracity and success than her widespread acclaim had previously hinted at. This is owing in part to the birth of her first child (with then-husband Egyptian filmmaker Ibrahim Moussa) in 1984. After enduring a tumultuous childhood herself – her volatile and unpleasant actor father Klaus Kinski abandoned her and her mother when Kinski was 10, while her mother was a wayward hippy – Kinski was determined to be a stable mother to her own children. She once said on the subject: "[Once] I had little kids, that's what I wanted to do: to be there. And not not be there." She has three children: son Aljosha (b. 1984) and daughters Sonja Kinski, a model (b. 1986), and Kenya Julia Miambi Sarah Jones (b. 1993) with famed record producer Quincy Jones. Kinski's latest film Sugar, directed by Rotimi Rainwater, is due for release this September.

Text by Daisy Woodward

This evening we are celebrating Wim Wenders' birthday with a screening of Paris, Texas at the Dalston Roof Garden. To read more about the screening tonight, click here, for a playlist of songs from Wim Wenders films, click here, and for Ten Wim Wenders Facts, click here.