In Marie Kreutzer’s memorable drama Corsage, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Vicki Krieps) is floundering. Bogged down by the weight of lifelong social obligations, relentless public scrutiny, restrictive gender roles, and even her own bountiful head of hair, she’s a woman who’s longing to break free. That urge to rebel, to follow her heart instead of the path she’s been forced to follow since birth, drives the action in this insightful film.
It’s no coincidence that Elisabeth’s restlessness escalates as she turns 40 — the dreaded milestone seems to mark her as having left youthful beauty behind, with only the slow march toward aging ahead. The gossip pages declare that she’s struggling with her weight, and all eyes are always upon her: Can her bodice (the titular corsage) be pulled tight enough to give her the narrow waist she feels compelled to maintain? Can she still charm the men in her life and tempt her husband, the emperor (Florian Teichtmeister), with her body? Is that even what she wants?
Sherin Nicole These are big questions, and Elisabeth struggles with them throughout the film, which is set in the late 1870s. It’s a fictionalized look at the life of a woman who was very real and who likely faced all of these issues and more during her reign. The cinematic Elisabeth grows melancholy as she grapples with the less satisfying areas of her life, attempting death by suicide and lashing out at those who are there to support and care for her. She flirts, she’s impulsive, she chafes at the limitations that dog her footsteps. All the while, she seems to be working toward some grand effort; when it comes, it’s both surprising and totally in character.
Krieps is excellent in the role, saying as much with Elisabeth’s pained smiles and sidelong looks as she does with her delivery of the lines from Kreutzer’s screenplay. The writer-director does an impressive job of recreating late 19th-century Europe as well — a time and place that has hints of the modern world waiting just around the corner (along with the specter of the Great War) but that still retains elements of past grandeur. Just like Elisabeth herself. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Pam Grady: Unexpected covers of Kris Kristofferson and Rolling Stones songs and well-heeled 19th-century women sipping cocktails from 20th-century glassware are among the anachronisms that underline the contemporary nature of the woman at its center. Not to be confused for a biopic, writer/director Marie Kreutzer only loosely follows the facts of Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s life as she pushes against the constraints placed against a woman of her time, and especially one of her station. The titular “corsage” (read: corset) is only a physical manifestation of what she is up against as husband, court, doctor, and even children strive to put in her place someone who refuses to stay there. Vicky Krieps commands the screen delivering an evocative performance that captures the mercurial and regal nature of the royal at the heart of this opulent drama.
Leslie Combemale Writer/director Marie Kreutzer shows one small snippet of Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s bizarre and often very tragic life, but really captures her passion for knowledge and expansion as a person, not just as a woman or a royal. Ageism isn’t anything new, and Empress Elisabeth strained against it even as she was its victim. Vicky Krieps once again shows us she’s a global IT girl, leveraging a balance of subtlety and flamboyance, as well as her facility with multiple languages, to bring a truly fascinating woman to life.
Nell Minow: Does this movie take place in the imagination of 19th century Empress Elizabeth, imagining rebellion beyond the fake fainting spells and flirtations she is limited to in real life. Vicky Krieps, who also co-produced, makes us see Elizabeth’s struggle to find meaning and agency in a world that just wants her to be beautiful, ever-young, and ever-pleasant as universal challenges.
Sherin Nicole Much like a corset, the titular “corsage,” creates the illusion of a body shaped by expectation, Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage is a study in facades. Every character is pretending, from the narrowness of their waists to their manly sideburns, from their capabilities to what they desire. All is theater; an unending show in a spotlight that is difficult to escape. This is the true draw of Corsage; we watch for how the facades will crack. Then we keep watching to see how the pieces will fall and who will be cut by the sharper edges. Just as women are judged for how well we fulfill gender roles, it is ridiculous that Vicky Krieps’ Empress Elizabeth is labeled “old” the moment the sun rises on her 40th year. Yet that is the truth, whether in 1877 or now, and Krieps makes this year-in-the-life real. Naturalistic shots mixed with pale sunlight and amber candle glow set us firmly in a time marked by its harshness, even in places of great opulence. Ultimately, we crave softness for Empress Elizabeth even as the illusions quietly splinter.
Susan Wloszczyna: Lushly decorated and costumed, while cheekily anachronistic with its use of 21st century pop songs, salty language, rude gestures and the like, Corsage takes a look at the later life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, aka “Sissi” (1837-1898), played by a suitably regal and linguistically talented Vicky Krieps (Bergman Island, Phantom Thread), who speaks at least three languages here including Hungarian, and also takes an executive producer credit. In fact, Krieps reportedly first proposed the project to Austrian writer-director Marie Kreutzer. Read full review.
Marilyn Ferdinand Those of us for whom the word “corsage” conjures images of prom gowns and rented tuxedos will find something very different in Austrian director/screenwriter Marie Kreutzer’s period drama Corsage. In German, the word means “corset,” and in the film, it represents not only the instrument Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, used to attain her famous 16-inch waist, but also the straitened life of strict protocols that dominated her life in the Habsburg court of the 19th century. Vicky Krieps plays Elisabeth as a willful woman unsuccessfully straining for significance, but only granted fame as a great beauty with an impossibly slim figure that forced her to almost forgo eating entirely and yards-long hair that required daily tending by a dedicated hairdresser. The strictures of Elisabeth’s life give Kreutzer little opportunity for dramatic action, but the speculative ideas she included in her original script about how the empress might have escaped her corsage of a life lend a real air of intrigue to the last act of the film.
Jennifer Merin Corsage is writer/director Marie Kreutzer’s exquisite fictionalized account of a year in the life of Austrian Empress Elisabeth at the age of 40, when the pressures of public life and of meeting the public’s expectations about her looks and social behavior was becoming too much of a burden. Elisabeth’s longing to break free from restraining corsets and demanding crowds is brilliantly captured by the ever magnificent Vicki Krieps, whose performance is attracting much awards season buzz.
Loren King Marie Kreutzer’s audacious, original Corsage subverts the period biopic genre as Vicky Krieps delivers a saucy, tightrope-walking portrait of iconoclast Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, known affectionately as “Sissi.” Set in Vienna in 1877, Corsage creates a “Sissi” for the modern era, a forerunner to Princess Diana in her dissatisfaction, rebellion, self-destruction and entrapment in her rigid role, symbolized by the corset she insists her maids tighten around her shrinking torso until she’s ready to collapse. With its anachronistic songs and sumptuous photography, Corsage is a jarring, smart and fearless film and a showcase for Krieps. She quickly makes one forget the Romy Schneider “Sissi” trilogy of the 1950s. This film is the opposite of those campy confections. It’s witty, raw and unforgettable.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Empress Elisabeth of Austria has had a resurgence in popularity this year thanks to the German Netflix series detailing how the young Bavarian duchess “Sisi” became Emperor Franz Joseph’s betrothed and now director Marie Kreutzer’s excellent film Corsage, which chronicles the Empress as a woman of 40. Vicki Krieps gives a memorable performance as the “older” Elisabeth, who’s restless and unconventional, and both intent on keeping her beauty and influence from fading but also hoping to be more than just an aging and beautiful royal. See it for Krieps, the costume and production design, and the riveting history lesson.
Liz Whittemore In Corsage, writer-director Marie Kreutzer gives audiences a fictionalized peek into the life of Austrian Empress Elisabeth. The script allows Vicky Krieps to tackle every nuanced aspect of female existence, from feminine expectations to sexual influence, motherhood to cultural disruptor. Krieps brings vibrating energy to every single beat. With this story of an empress from the 19th century, the relatability that pours off the screen is profound. In some strange way, Kreutzer and Krieps created a film that had me laughing and gasping. I had never felt more seen as a woman. With costumes that are both dreamy and stifling, production design straight out of a fairytale and striking moments of visual defiance for the keen-eyed viewer, Corsage is one of the best films of the year. It is simply delicious.
Cate Marquis Corsage tells the story of the famous Empress Elizabeth of Austria, a beloved cultural icon known as Sissi, who is depicted in several movies and on countless tourist trinkets. But this is not another retelling of familiar story of the beautiful young fashion trendsetter, famous for her athleticism and her leadership as co-ruler with her emperor husband. Instead, Corsage introduces the famous beauty on her 40th birthday in 1877, as she faces a life of ever-tighter corsets and brutal exercise routines, as she is increasingly marginalized into ceremonial roles and no longer the co-ruler she once was. Director Marie Kreutzer directs Vicky Krieps in a brilliant performance of a smart, innovative woman refusing to go quietly into that good night, in a surprisingly feminist and occasionally surreal telling of the rest of the story.
Director: Marie Kreutzer
Release Date: December 23, 2022
Running Time: 115 minutes
Language: German and Hungarian, with English subtitles
Screenwriter: Marie Kreutzer
Distribution Company: IFC FILMS
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin