Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Vicki Krieps), whose idolised beauty is her currency in the annals of power and aristocracy, enters her 40th year. Evoking, in its sad social perpetuity, the great Meryl Streep’s admission that turning 40 coincided with being “offered three witch roles in one summer”, Elisabeth, or “Sisi” as she is affectionately referred to, fights to keep her currency strong. Simultaneously, she kicks against the rigidity which maintains her position, searching for a midlife identity outside the inflexibility of her daily life.
It is this conflict which is at the heart of Corsage, the increasingly scrutinised dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary over which she presides coming to geopolitically mirror the diametrically opposed elements of her own disposition. This internal conflict is evocatively maintained throughout the film’s duration, with director Marie Kreutzer drawing upon her ability to sustain a tone of disquiet, as was so uniquely deployed in her 2019 feature The Ground Beneath My Feet. While Kreutzer significantly dials down on the psychodrama of the former, the consistently permeating restlessness of Corsage, supplemented by cinematographer Judith Kaufmann’s beautiful warm and cold hues, is notable, with Elisabeth, despite her journeys to Hungary and England, at times resembling a bird in a cage.
The finely tuned performance of Krieps brilliantly anchors this restlessness. Committedly wearing tight corsets throughout production, and alarmingly achieving a wasp waist of 40cm, the actress’s ability to embody Elisabeth’s imperiousness in the face of ultimate restrictions to her role as one of exhibitionism brings Kreutzer’s engaging character study to life.
The filmmaker also finds room for interesting and unexpected metatextual contemplation, opting for live, traditional renditions of 20th-century pop songs, including a mournful interpretation of the Rolling Stones-penned As Tears Go By. Taking place at the advent of moving picture technology, Elisabeth also appears uncharacteristically free of burden and conflict as she frolics in front of the camera. These are additions which slot neatly into the film’s fabric, where a less precise hand may have seen them stick out like a sore thumb.
Debuting in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes Film Festival, Corsage, with its unhurried pacing, is not a film which will play to mainstream audiences, but fodder for the Cannes contingent it is bound to be.
Corsage does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch a clip from Corsage here: