Corsage (2022)

Director: Marie Kreutzer
Writer: Marie Kreutzer
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Katharina Lorenz, Jeanne Werner, Florian Teichtmeister, Manuel Rubey, Aaron Friesz, Colin Morgan, Finnegan Oldfield, Alexander Pschill, Raphael von Bargen
Seen on: 2.7.2022

It’s 1877. Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Vicky Krieps) is renowned everywhere for her beauty, but she is getting older and maintaining her public image becomes more and more difficult. And Elisabeth is less and less willing to comply, trying to find a new way to live her life that doesn’t feel like constantly sitting in a cage.

Corsage is a well-made, engaging film that takes apart the mythology of “Sissi” to discover who Elisabeth may have been. It’s an ambitious project that does justice to these ambitions.

The film poster showing Empress Elisabeth (Vicky Krieps) wearing a black dress, a crown floating above her head.

Empress Elisabeth, Sissi, is one of the most mythologized figures in Austrian history. There are the Romy Schneider movies about her, there is a musical, there are museums, fan art, and general idolatry. And that is far from all. Usually these protrayals are highly romanticized, painting Sissi and Franz-Joseph as star-crossed lovers whose love breaks due to demands of public life, and Sissi herself just wants to be free.

Corsage is here to thoroughly deconstruct this myth, starting with the fact it picks up its narrative around Elisabeth’s 40th birthday – already hardened by decades of court and public demands and considered old. Krieps doesn’t seem to wear any make-up to underscore this image. But they also touch on more or less well-known facts about Elisabeth: her excessive need for sports, her eating disorder (those two things are certainly related), as well as the fact that Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister) was actually shorter than her.

Elisabeth (Vicky Krieps) smoking at the window.

The film doesn’t limit itself to historical fact, though. Early-on it starts to introduce ahistorical elements (in the beginning, you wonder whether those things are on purpose, or just overlooked), and then veers off into complete fantasy towards the end. I have to admit, that I struggle with the ending that seems to fall back into the romanticization it tries so very hard to work against until then.

But other than that, I found Corsage a wonderful bit of cinema that tries to find the woman inside the myth with a perfect Krieps who grounds the entire thing. Yes, at times it’s a little on the nose with its images and symbols, but there is something to be said for making your purpose so very clear. And it is never not engaging.

Elisabeth (Vicky Krieps) and her confidante Marie (Katharina Lorenz) in a carriage.

Summarizing: excellent.

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