“Corsage”, which was recently selected as the Austrian submission for Best International Feature Film, is a dry but interesting character study loosely based on one real-life royal figure during the late 19th century Europe. According to the IMDB trivia, the movie is quite different from the history of its real-life heroine in many aspects, but it is anchored well by another strong acting from its very talented lead performer, and I admired that and the other strong elements of the film even while observing its story and characters from the distance.
Vicky Krieps, a wonderful Luxembourgish-German actress who has been more prominent thanks to her unforgettable breakthrough turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” (2017), plays Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who has incidentally been the subject of numerous other films for many years (In fact, the movie is one of five Austrian-German productions about Empress Elisabeth of Austria to be released between 2021-2022). The movie begins with Elisabeth preparing for another public occasional which she is going to attend along with her husband, and it is clear that she is not so particularly interested in that from the start. As a matter of fact, she feigns to be sick when she and her husband later meet several officials in public, and she enjoys the responses from others around her simply because she just wants to have a little fun.
Phlegmatically observing Elisabeth’s daily life in the royal palace in Vienna, the movie conveys to us more of her ongoing ennui. She and her husband do not have much affection between them, and he is usually occupied with handling numerous matters of his country day by day. While she is eager to discuss those matters with him in private, he does not listen or talk to her much, and he does not even provide much comfort or affection to her, though he respects and values her as his empress to some degree.
Naturally, Elisabeth lets herself getting involved with some other men out there, and one of them is King Ludwig II of Bavaria (Manuel Rubey), who is incidentally also a cousin of hers. Although they are more like friends instead of lovers, Elisabeth loves to spend some time with him anyway, and she willingly ignores her husband for that, even when her husband is ringing the bell right in front of the entrance to her private place.
However, King Ludwig II soon returns to his place, and Elisabeth gets bored again while her husband does not provide much help or support as usual. When she later tries to have some fun with her little daughter outside, that only leads to an unexpected trouble, and that causes more conflict between her and her husband, who still does not understand how much she wants more fun and freedom outside their palace.
In the end, Elisabeth’s husband allows her to have a little vacation in some rural area of England, where she has some other guy with whom she is willing to spend some time. Although this guy is just a plain horse trainer, Elisabeth enjoys flirting a bit with him, and he also seems to be interested in getting a little closer to her, though causing a scandal is the last thing he wants.
Not so surprisingly, their relationship is soon aborted as the people surrounding Elisabeth remind her again of her weighty social position, and Elisabeth is frustrated to find herself stuck in her royal palace again. She tries to get closer to her husband, but her little bold attempt only results in a joyless sex between them, and she is not so pleased at all when she comes to learn that her husband has been close to a girl much younger than her. As approaching to 40 day by day, she becomes more anxious about losing her beauty and youth, and that makes her all the more conscious of how her body is slim enough for her tight corsage.
Leisurely strolling from one episodic moment to another, the movie deliberately adds bits of anachronism for emphasizing its modern perspective just like Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” (2006), and director/writer Marie Kreutzer has some fun with that. For example, you may sometimes notice certain objects which do not fit well with the period background of the film, and you will also be caught off guard by certain key scenes where English songs are sung and performed for no apparent reason.
In the meantime, Krieps’ nuanced performance, which deservedly won the Best Actress at the European Film Awards (She was also jointly awarded with Adam Bessa in “Harka” (2022) when the movie was shown in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival early in this year), keeps holing our attention to the end. Effortlessly embodying her character’s longtime frustration and suffocation, Krieps is terrific especially when her character becomes more neurotic later in the story, and she is also supported well by several good supporting performers in the film including Katharina Lorenz, Jeanne Werner, Alma Hasun, Manuel Rubey, and Florian Teichtmeister.
Overall, “Corsage” will surely require some patience from you due to its detached attitude and slow narrative pacing, but it is still worthwhile to watch thanks to Kreutzer’s competent direction as well as another stellar acting from Krieps. I must tell you that Its ending may distract you if you know enough about its real-life heroine, but, in my trivial opinion, it mostly works in the context of the story, and you may come to reflect more on the feminist aspects of the film. After all, there are still millions of women constrained by social roles imposed upon them, and that certainly makes the film timeless to say the least.