Empress Elizabeth of Austria is idolized for her beauty and renowned for inspiring fashion trends. But in 1877, ‘Sissi’ celebrates her 40th birthday and must fight to maintain her public image by lacing her corset tighter and tighter. While Elizabeth’s role has been reduced against her wishes to purely performative, her hunger for knowledge and zest for life makes her more and more restless in Vienna. She travels to England and Bavaria, visiting former lovers and old friends, seeking the excitement and purpose of her youth. With a future of strictly ceremonial duties laid out in front of her, Elizabeth rebels against the hyperbolized image of herself and comes up with a plan to protect her legacy.
Corsage, is a biopic that focuses on the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria (Vicky Krieps) for the years she turned 40 (1877-1878). This midlife crisis has the Empress flexing not her political muscles. Her life was mainly ceremonial. She was to be the dutiful Queen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I (Florian Teichmeister). Instead, Elizabeth starts a more complicated social rebellion to change fashion and the court’s social mores.
The director, Marie Kreutzer does something that is very thematically interesting yet confounding. Kreutzer makes Elizabeth an anachronism, a person out of her time and place. Kreutzer plays loose and fast with the facts of Elizabeth’s life, creating affairs with people she never knew and giving her the send off a Tolstoy heroine, by allowing her to choose the manner and time of her death. The real Elizabeth was assassinated in her sixties. Here, Elizabeth is allowed a bright beautiful Titanic homage swan dive.
Corsage refers to the tight laced corsets worn at the time. The constant tightening scenes reflect the strictures that Elizabeth is rebelling against only semi-successfully. She still feels the need to exist on the slim woman’s diet of bone broth and thin sliced oranges and vigorous exercise. To every one in the courts dismay, she’s an avid equestrian, who refuses to ride side-saddle or even to stay to the approved riding paths. She is always hearing the anthem with the lyrics- beautiful may she remain- being sung to her by a choir of church boys, young men and royal old codgers.
Remain suggests she is never allowed to change. Elizabeth is distressed that she’s may no longer live up to that ideal. She sees herself, “disperse and fade,”as she succinctly notes to a confidant. The royal gossiping tongues inside and outside the court are starting to wag.
Her rebellion is more , evolutionary, tiny steps that grow from small gestures to large, sweeping ones: furtive cigarettes eventually smoked in the open, reckless flirtations brought out from the bedroom to the banquet hall for others to see.
Krieps is wonderful to watch in the role. She’s a virtuoso of stillness, the kind that Greta Garbo and Marlena Dietrich gave off routinely. Krieps knows the value of small and big gestures, the slanted line uttered in the right tone and timing. Her style is a mixture of classical and modern, perfect for depicting a character caught between old and new worlds, and privilege that once exalted and now suffocates her.
Kreutzer treats Krieps and her character with a critical distance. Kreutzer is sympathetic to Elizabeth, but skeptical of her change. She doesn’t she it as authentic. It is just a style choice, a fad. This creates riffs between performance and execution. Elizabeth is not allowed to be a martyr or even a feminist role model. She is just a bored little Empress, watching herself grow old and doing semi-naughty things to keep herself entertained. That generates only so much sympathy before the pathos takes over. Kreutzer refuses to give Krieps what Garbo and Dietrich would have demanded- a grand character with style. Her Elizabeth is never allowed to rise above her hidden history or desires.
Corsage gets a 3.0 out of 5 or a B for that odd directorial choice. It is streaming on Hulu.
- Alexander Glehr
- Johanna Scherz
- Vicky Krieps
- Florian Teichtmeister
- Katharina Lorenz
- Jeanne Werner
- Alma Hasun
- Manuel Rubey
- Aaron Friesz
- Rosa Hajjaj
- Lilly Marie Tschörtner
- Film AG
- Samsa Film
- Komplizen Film
- Kazak Productions
- ORF Film
- Panda Lichtspiele Filmverleih (Austria)
- Alamode Film (Germany)
- Ad Vitam Distribution(France)
- 20 May 2022(Cannes)
- 7 July 2022(Austria and Germany)
- 14 December 2022(France)