Krieps shines in yet another take of Empress Sisi
Thanks in part to the #MeToo era, dissociative feminist stories have been on the rise, showing female existential dread taken with panache. This has mostly been seen in series such as Fleabag (2016-2019) and in books such as “Normal People.” Some artists boldly took this lens of female angst and used it as a revisionist tool for historical figures; the most famous being Sofia Coppola with Marie Antoinette (2006) and the eponymous queen, and most recently with Empress Elizabeth of Austria with Corsage (2022).
Corsage follows the Austrian Empress Elizabeth (Vicky Krieps) in 1878 as she had just turned 40. We see her famous travels throughout Europe, her frosty relationship with Emperor Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister), and her losing battle against the repressive nature of the times.
Corsage is written and directed by Marie Kreutzer in her second collaboration with Krieps after We Used to Be Cool (2016). Kreutzer is heavily influenced by Coppola’s style in Marie Antoinette, mixing the aura of a historically accurate picture with jarring “incorrect” scenes featuring EXIT signs, plastic mops, the use of middle-fingers as insults, and modern pop-songs. Much like Coppola, this is used by Kreutz to signal that she is taking on an interior exploration of Empress Elizabeth’s character and as such the externalities depicted in the film should be taken as expressionistic and not historiographic. This freedom allows Kreutz and Krieps to explore Elizabeth’s trappings and frustrations without restraints.
Kreutzer is aware that this royal asphyxiation comes from the inability to control one’s life or be oneself. While this is not a new conclusion for fans of royal dramas, Kreutzer goes about a different way of illustrating her point; making viewers endure the tedious and pointless ceremony of Elizabeth’s life. This is a bold approach, but a risky one as it becomes too successful in showing the boredom and lack of purpose of the aristocracy. Viewers themselves start to become dulled and fail to see a narrative thread, which is essential in a successful script. After about an hour of Corsage, the meandering pace and directionless nature will be enough to make you check your watch repeatedly. This point of dullness is sadly hammered across for the entirety of the film, with Kreutzer failing to delve much deeper into Elizabeth’s psyche besides the fact that she felt suppressed. This is frustrating given the liberty that Kreutzer had garnered herself with her stylistic choice.
Corsage, however, is saved thanks to an imperious performance by Krieps. Krieps burst onto our screens as a foil to Daniel Day Lewis in The Phantom Thread (2017), and despite Hollywood fawning for her talents, she’s been selective about what movies she does. This makes her appearances on screen feel all the sweeter as she dons on rarer, but riskier films. As Elizabeth, Krieps is able to give her self-destructive nature the air of inevitability instead of it appearing like a capricious aristocratic tantrum. From the merest flickers of eyelashes to the more bombastic scenes Kreutzer crafts, Krieps is always in complete command truly disappearing into the angst of Elizabeth.
In the end, Corsage is another fitting entry into the dissociative feminist twist of historical female figures. Kreutzer brings a Coppola-esque style of distanced accuracy, which livens the period drama, but is not used to its full potential. Despite an empowering performance from Krieps, Corsage’s commitment to depict royal boredom and futility overpowers viewers to an exhausting effect.