Corsage – Film Review
by Frank L
Director – Marie Kreutzer
Writer – Marie Kreutzer
Stars – Vicky Krieps, Colin Morgan, Ivana Urban
Elisabeth or Sissi of the royal family of Bavaria was a mere 16 years old when she married Franz Joseph I, the Emperor of Austria in 1854, and by 1868 she had given birth to a son and three daughters, two of whom had survived. The Court life of Vienna was far more restrictive and circumscribed than her more easygoing upbringing in Bavaria. She found life more congenial in Hungary and she was a factor in her husband becoming King of Hungary in 1867. Kreutzer sets the story in 1877 when the Empress and Queen is 40 years of age. In one sense by then she had performed her duty in having produced a son and heir. However, what Kreutzer investigates are the constraints within which Elisabeth had to live and the means she found to ease those restraints.
Elisabeth sought to achieve a waist of a mere 18 inches. Kreutzer shows in considerable detail Elisabeth’s servants tightening the laces of the corsage. But no matter what the restrictions of Court life were, Sissi was a woman who enjoyed the world of nature and loved to ride. She had a great affinity for the world of the horse and the society of those who liked to ride for pleasure. Her marriage to the Emperor had become, at best, formulaic.
Vicky Krieps plays the role of Elisabeth/Sissi which requires her to be a split personality who outwardly conforms to the requirements of the Court but whose instincts and needs are to explore her own passions. Passion is not one of the qualities which is apparent in the Emperor Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister) who appears as a man who is always distant. His duty is to control the fate of the Empire, and her duty is to serve him. Elisabeth is a far more forceful character than that. She like a lion is not concerned by the opinions of the sheep who surround her. She finds admirers who are more in sympathy with her inner persona.
The film is primarily shot in the large cavernous rooms of royal palaces. Even in moments of intimacy, the formality of the rooms permeates the atmosphere. Somehow Krieps manages in these forbidding interiors to foster and display the driving needs of Elisabeth/Sissi. It is a sterling performance where she has to balance the requirement of being conventional to the public in order to perform her duties while within her the rhythms of her inner being were entirely different.
Kreutzer underlines these differences with her musical choices which have loyal choirs singing anthems of praise to the Emperor and his Empress interspersed with occasional references to the music of the 1960s. This is not therefore a strictly historically accurate imagining of the life of the Empress/Sissi. It takes a look at a beautiful woman whose purpose is done so far as society is concerned by the time she reaches forty and Kreutzer seeks to investigate and imagine the forces which then drove Elisabeth/Sissi.
The ending is an entire fabrication but that does not take from the overall premise of the film that many women face societal restrictions once child rearing is complete. Krieps gives an outstanding performance in this challenging role. The film has been selected to represent Austria at the Academy Awards in the best international feature category. It is a film well worth seeing.
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