Decadentism and modernity find an excellent combination in Corsage. The costumes and elegant interiors of Schönbrunn provide a counterpoint to the pop music. At the same time, Marie Kreutzer opted for a classical mise-en-scène, so that the viewer can focus exclusively on her magnetic protagonist, masterfully played by Vicky Krieps. At the Cannes Film Festival 2022.
Longing for freedom
When director Michael Kehlmann shot Radetzkymarsch (based on the novel of the same name by Joseph Roth) in 1964, the scene showing Emperor Franz Joseph in his nightshirt was particularly shocking, as it was considered inappropriate to depict such a personality in intimate moments. Today, a good fifty-eight years later, things have obviously changed and in Corsage – director Marie Kreutzer’s newest feature film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2022 in the section Un certain Regard – we see the imperial couple in far more ‘controversial’ situations. One element, however, that both feature films have in common is the merciless portrayal of the Habsburg monarchy, guilty of ruining millions of lives in Radetzkymarsch and considered a true gilded cage in Corsage.
On this occasion, then, we see an Empress Elisabeth of Austria (played by Vicky Krieps, who had already worked with Kreutzer in We used to be coolin 2016) who is incredibly fragile, human, obsessed with caring for her body (the tight corsets with which she used to wrap her waist are legendary) and terrified of getting old. Not surprisingly, the story begins on the eve of her fortieth birthday, in December 1877. Elisabeth lives with her husband (Florian Teichtmeister) and children Rudolph (Aaron Friezs) and Maria Valeria. Her love for the emperor has long since faded and the desire to run away is always very strong. Will she ever find her longed-for freedom?
In Corsage, Marie Kreutzer has completely relied on her character (masterfully played by Krieps), showing us everything exclusively from her point of view, giving us intense close-ups and details of hands lacing corsets, as well as wild horse rides and moments of intimate confidences.
Empress Elisabeth, on this occasion, is by no means a perfect heroine. On the contrary, her more controversial sides are shown to us by the camera with a stark realism, further accentuated by opulent yet decadent settings and moments in which we see the protagonist despairing over the death of her horse, making faces at the doctor (when the latter tells her that she is now considered old at 40), running wild in front of an early, rudimentary camera built by film pioneer Louis Le Prince and being injected with this ‘new medicine’, heroin, which can put an end to her inner torment ‘without health risks’.
Decadentism and modernity, then, find an excellent combination in Corsage. The costumes and elegant interiors of Schönbrunn provide a counterpoint to the pop music (by the French musician Camille) and all together are almost reminiscent of the approach chosen by Sofia Coppola in Marie Antoinette (2006). In this case, however, Marie Kreutzer opted for a more classical mise-en-scene, so that the viewer could focus exclusively on her magnetic protagonist. A particularly appropriate choice, which made Corsage a brave but never excessive or unnecessary feature film. A feature film that is not afraid to dare, to point the finger at a cold and hypocritical world, to give us a layered yet affectionate and strongly emotional portrait of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The days when a young Romy Schneider played the maverick but happily in love Sissi in Ernst Marischka‘s trilogy (1955 – 1957) are long gone. Now it is time to face reality and – why not? – to finally let go by diving from a ship into the open sea.
Original title: Corsage
Directed by: Marie Kreutzer
Country/year: Austria, France, Luxembourg, Germany / 2022
Running time: 113’
Genre: biographical, drama, historical
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Colin Morgan, Finnegan Oldfield, Tamas Lengyel, Jeanne Werner, Aaron Friesz, Manuel Rubey, Alexander Pschill, Alma Hasun, Katharina Lorenz, Raphael von Bargen, Florian Teichtmeister, Ivana Urban, Marlene Hauser, Regina Fritsch, Stefan Puntigam, Norman Hacker, Johanna Mahaffy, David Oberkogler, Oliver Rosskopf
Screenplay: Marie Kreutzer
Cinematography: Judith Kaufmann
Produced by: Arte France Cinéma, Eurimages, Film AG Produktion