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November 05, 2022

Denver Film Festival - Corsage


Marie Kreutzer - 2022
IFC Films

Probably the most famous film incarnation of Empress Elizabeth of Austria was that by Romy Schneider. First came the German Sissi trilogy, a romantic version of the young empress' life. This was followed by playing the same part, but as a mature woman a bit more than a decade later in Luchino Visconti's Ludwig. In an interview following one of the festival screenings of Corsage, Vicky Kriep's briefly discusses not simply playing a film role associated with Schneider, but how she sought to create the kind of performance she thought Schneider might have done has the older actress had been allowed greater latitude.

Corsage begins like a traditional biographical drama. There are titles informing the viewer of the time and place, 1877, Austria. The opening scene is of Elizabeth getting squeezed into her corset prior to one of the many royal ceremonies she is expected to attend. There are a couple of scenes involving the binding of the corset, the most obvious signifier of a life lived under restraints. Elizabeth has turned 40 years old, virtually the end of life socially if not literally at this point in the 19th Century. As presented by writer/director Maria Kreutzer, Elizabeth is a woman seeking ways to rebel against the restrictions and expectations of her role as a woman and as a symbolic representative of the shaky Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Kreutzer undermines audience expectations by not being totally historical accurate and by incorporation of several anachronisms. Musicians with instruments of the time play "As Tears go By" and "Help Me Make it Through the Night". Though there was never a actual meeting, one of the fantastic but true moments is the inclusion of Louis Le Prince, who invented a single lens motion picture camera with the images on long strips of paper. As for any meaning, Kreutzer at this point has been pointedly elusive, refusing to offer any explanations. A partial answer might be found in a deeper dive into history, in how events in the Austro-Hungarian Empire led up to World War i, with the end or diminishment of the role of the monarchy in Europe, as well as the beginnings of greater independence of women. The two years that Corsage takes place is of a romanticized era that would be forced to disappear in the upcoming century.

The idea of making a new film about Empress Elizabeth was initiated by Vicky Krieps, while the actual writing was Kreutzer working independently. In keeping with this being a female led project, key production positions were also held by women. The main soundtrack was composed by the singularly named Camille whose song, "She Was" is excerpted several times. For those whose only familiarity with Vicky Krieps is in her English language films, this is a much more playful performance, with a solo dance that is reason enough to stick around for the end credits.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 5, 2022 05:43 AM