“Corsage” is a glorious departure from the staid period dramas that have come to dominate the genre. It is a fictionalized take on Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s (aka Sissi’s) last year filled with anachronistic hints, modern pop songs, exit signs, motorized tractors and other exciting inconsistencies. Writer-director Marie Kreutzer turns the genres of costume drama and historical biopic on upside down.
It is a real feast for the eyes, with stunning visuals and lush textures that draw viewers into the world of Empress Elisabeth. At the heart of this film is a complex and captivating portrait of a woman who refuses to be boxed in by societal norms, and fights against the expectations of her position. She is often body shamed, faces criticism and marital issues due to an „unheard virus” called AGING. The film is set against the backdrop of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the socio-political unrest of the era, adding to the conflict between Sissi and her husband.
Kreutzer masterfully matched the characters inner life, pace of thinking and reacting to her environment as well as her temperament with the film’s look, music and details. The depiction of Sissi’s internal struggle between her adventurous spirit and her suffocating role as a princess, wife, and mother is deeply poignant. While watching the movie, I could not help but think of Princess Diana. Rebellious women in gilded cages who were too charismatic and overwhelming for their closest surroundings. (The dance scene under the closing credits might also remind viewers of Emma Corrin’s dance sequence in Netflix’s The Crown).
Vicky Krieps delivers a tour-de-force performance as Elisabeth, it is subtle and nuanced. Krieps’ is undoubtedly one of the finest actresses of her generation, and her raw talent helps her embody every detail of Sissi – her repressed emotions flow out from her pores. Seeing an idolized historical character step into (a semi-fictional) state of naturalism brings her close to audiences like never before. We can relate to her, both when she gives the finger to her husband in the middle of a fight and when she cries under her make-up as well as when she forgets about her problems while in good company. She is bigger than life, and a giant compared to other people in her life, as it is shown in the form of disproportionate sets (houses) in a handful of scenes. What a hyper creative choice!
„Corsage” is daring. It also sets out to explore the sexuality, irony and antipathy of Sissi’s character, which is a refreshing departure from biopics. It does not judge its subject but it does not shy away from looking at her shadow-self either. The film also delves into the strained relationship between Elisabeth and her husband, Franz Joseph I, with a tantalizing undercurrent of isolation and jealousy. Sissi is bored and neglected, a woman who was capable and destined for way more – and she knows it. She struggles to build a true connection with her daughter, after her other child, Sophie, dies in infancy. While her son, Prince Rudolf, is close to her up until the point he is sent to Prague due to his political duties. Elisabeth travels widely and wildly, finding herself in the middle of swirling gossip by getting close to men who show her any interest and love.
She is kind-hearted towards strangers in hospitals, the scene when she offers a cigarette to a disabled soldier and then they smoke together laying in bed is just wonderful. The lake scene where Sissi and her cousin „dance” while swimming in the moonlight is also a standout. Beautifully shot, almost otherworldly and poetic.
The filmmakers captured the atmosphere of the era and Sissi’s internal and external life with great taste, sensitivity and emotional intelligence. The production design and costumes are gorgeous.
In the end, “Corsage” is a brilliant and unexpected addition to the genre, and a testament to the power of rebellion in the face of conformity. It dares to be revealing of the humanity and vulnerabilities of these famous characters, reminding us that even the most revered figures are still human beings with desires, flaws and a deep hunger to love and be loved.
You can catch „Corsage” on AMC+, AppleTV, Hulu, Direct TV and more.
~ by Dora Endre ~