Written and Directed by Marie Kreutzer.
Starring Vicky Krieps, Florian Teichtmeister, Katharina Lorenz, Jeanne Werner, Alma Hasun, Finnegan Oldfield, Manuel Rubey, Aaron Friesz, Colin Morgan, Tamás Lengyel, Ivana Urban, Alexander Pschill, Raphael Nicholas, Rosa Hajjaj, Lilly Marie Tschörtner, May Garzon, Norman Hacker, Marlene Hauser, Adrien Papritz, Oliver Rosskopf, Peter Faerber, Klaus Huhle, Johanna Mahaffy, David Oberkogler, Alice Prosser, Stefan Puntigam, Resi Reiner, Raphael von Bargen, Regina Fritsch, Johannes Rhomberg, Kajetan Dick, Astrid Perz, Eva Spreitzhofer, and Stefan Murr.
A fictional account of one year in the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. On Christmas Eve 1877, Elisabeth, once idolized for her beauty, turns 40 and is officially deemed an old woman; she starts trying to maintain her public image.
On more than one occasion in writer/director Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (a beguiling and transfixing offbeat Vicky Krieps) visits a nearby mental asylum where its inhabitants are not only physically trapped but also lost in their minds. Aside from Elizabeth – who has recently turned 40 and is facing the pressures of modern society regarding aging and beauty – asking a comatose patient if he remembers calling her pretty, there is a juxtaposition here that despite wealth, social status, and fame, she is also locked up. As if the environment doesn’t make it clear enough, Emperor Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister) reminds her that his job is to rule, and hers is to represent through a public image (in regards to physical appearance, something she has to work hard at while he sports fake muttonchops).
However, while attuned to the bleak circumstances for women in the nineteenth century, Maria Kreutzer is also not interested in wallowing in that misery. Here, Elisabeth is depicted as restless, consistently taking up new endurance activities such as holding her breath underwater or hanging upside down, and hobbies like fencing and horseback riding.
The focus lies in observing Elisabeth’s day-to-day life across several months, specifically, her dedication to remaining slim through fitness and fasting (hence the corsage), various affairs since her Emperor husband is too busy politicking and ruling to pay attention to her, and the all-consuming emptiness that comes from a life of loyalty. It’s not all sympathy, though, as Elisabeth is sometimes complex and cruel to her ladies-in-waiting.
Elisabeth is also determined to be herself despite society’s expectations, which allows Corsage to take on modern sensibilities (whether it be through contemporary dialogue or anachronistic production design, implying that such oppression still exists today). The idea is sound with a game performance from Vicky Krieps, but there’s always the lingering sensation that Maria Kreutzer isn’t always pushing the edginess far enough. Corsage sometimes functions somewhere between an unconventional punk rock biopic (although the soundtrack consists of softer licensed songs) and standard period piece protocol.
Perhaps the above would feel slightly less frustrating if Corsage had a bit more narrative structure to it, as it can occasionally feel aimless following around Elisabeth. But for every somewhat bland moment comes another that is profound, such as her interactions with early moving camera inventor Louis Le Prince (Finnegan Oldfield), where capturing silent video of her offers liberation and freedom of expression. Everything also leads to a simultaneously dark and beautiful ending, suggesting that there is only one way to escape.
And if you are under the impression that historical knowledge will give away the unfolding events, fear not because Marie Kreutzer is taking heavy liberties to paint a character portrait that is true to Elisabeth’s personality but serves a greater message about this person and the world.
Then there is the costume design from Monika Buttinger, which is expectedly outstanding considering the title of the movie, giving the setting some additional color and dazzle. Elisabeth’s life on paper may be as restrictive as a corsage, and Vicky Krieps funnels that into something strikingly punchy in the character’s refusal to conform. Unfortunately, everything else about Corsage does feel like it’s conforming and adhering to the genre.
Still, there are plenty of thoughtful bits along the way, including a visually and emotionally memorable ending. When Corsage does break free of those familiar trappings, there is more room for Vicky Krieps to breathe life into it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com