Runtime: 114 minutes
Director: Marie Kreutzer
Writer: Marie Kreutzer
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Colin Morgan, Florian Teichtmeister, Katharina Lorenz, Jeanne Werner
By Tom Moore
The newest film from writer/director Marie Kreutzer, “Corsage,” brings along Vicky Krieps for a surprisingly funny and, at times, heartbreaking tale of perceptive beauty that centers on an empress full of rebellious charm and personal strife.
The film sees Krieps play Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who once was revered for her beauty, but now finds herself trying to regain prominence after she turns 40. Even if you go into “Corsage” without any knowledge of who Elisabeth was, you’ll instantly fall in love with Krieps’ performance and be enamored by Elisabeth, especially during this tragic time in her life. Although she’s the embodiment of decadent royalty and the costume and set design showcase her wealth and elegance well, there is a snarky and rebellious side to her that Krieps constantly evokes in her incredible performance.
She’s not afraid to give the middle finger to a table full of delegates or do a tell-all about her secret to performing the perfect public fainting spell. She commands respect like any person in power would and isn’t against going after whatever and whomever she wants. There’s an especially great moment when she interacts with the first iteration of a film camera and delivers some fun antics that show her inner personality past the glamour and prestige. When going into something like “Corsage,” you wouldn’t expect it to be as funny and open as it is. Yet, Kreutzer’s direction mixed with Krieps’ performance create this hilarious showing of an empress evoking her power and being a rebellious treat. However, Elisabeth’s story isn’t just comical and actually hits more tragic notes that reflect how a woman’s importance and respect is intertwined with her perceived beauty.
Even though there was a time where Elisabeth was seen as a strong and beautiful entity in Austrian royalty, that all changes on her 40th birthday and she becomes viewed as inferior and old. In a modern mindset, this would seem ridiculous and archaic, but in this time setting, it’s sadly the norm. Rather than her legacy being celebrated, the vast paintings of Elisabeth all throughout the estate haunt her and the snide comments about her age and beauty truly get under her skin. It’s this rebuke that drives Elisabeth to be enjoyably rebellious against the norms, but also creates this strong, character-driven arc that sees her confront and deal with her inner turmoil.
While the film can struggle to hold your attention at times with its slow pacing, unclear story direction, and its more abstract approach to its themes, its central story surrounding Elisabeth can have a strong emotional tether. Every time that Elisabeth requests that her corset be tightened, her desires and frustrations become palpable as it’s an action that perfectly symbolizes her growing turmoil with her social and self-perception throughout. With how Krieps absolutely nails the emotions and vulnerability that Elisabeth presents as she tries to regain her sense of beauty in other’s eyes as well as her own and maintain her sense of power and respect, there’s a deeply personal central arc in “Corsage” that manages to make a strong connection with viewers.
Even in times where there are good laughs and funny interactions, there’s always an underlying sense of desire and longing that’s kind of a gut punch and creates this heartfelt and very human touch Elisabeth’s story. Each attempt by Elisabeth to explore and confront the norms and perceptions that bind her change your perspective on her arc and it makes for an ever-changing story that leads to some surprisingly emotional conclusions. By the end, “Corsage” feels like a story of understanding self-worth that remains incredibly relevant to how women still face damning perceptions of beauty and aging intertwining today.
Even while it can be a sluggish watch, Kreutzer and Krieps are triumphant with “Corsage” in creating a great fictionalized biopic that explores Elisabeth in a crucial turning point in her life leading to a hilarious and heart-wrenching watch filled with modern themes to think on and a central performance to endlessly ravish.