The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - CORSAGE | The Movie Waffler


A year in the life of Austria's Empress Elisabeth.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Marie Kreutzer

Starring: Vicky Krieps, Florian Teichtmeister, Katharina Lorenz, Jeanne Werner, Colin Morgan

corsage poster

Funny watching this on the weekend that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s documentary dropped on Netflix. One product features a princess who every gobshite seems to have a point of view about; judging her figure, her approach to life and the management of her office with a scrutiny that her husband simply isn’t subjected to.... while the other etc, etc. Opening the Daily Mail website on Friday (I know, I know: the things I do for research. Hold your nose, innit) with its extensive negative coverage of the doc, one might imagine that Meghan née Markle had committed a widespread terrorist atrocity, and not just adopted the sort of glib vacuity which seems to define modern celebrity (at least she hasn’t appropriated Nazi iconography, ala Ye or her literal own husband, eh lads?).

corsage review

You wonder what it is about the beautiful, mixed race, American, raised by a single parent Meghan that gets Middle England so riled. Beats me. Via archetypal narratives and patriarchal conditioning, the aspirational ideal of ‘the princess’ is a standard inculcated at birth. And so perhaps the wholesale anger towards Meghan (yes, she’s mononymical like Madonna, or Bungle) is simple jealousy: why her, and not me? But then that wouldn’t explain the global acceptance of white, British, middle-class Kate Windsor... Christ knows. Maybe I’m not the best person to ask, seeing as I ordinarily have a complete lack of interest in the royals. Mind you, that hasn’t prevented everyone else from chipping in...

Because in a sense, I suppose, we do own these people, and pay for their privilege. Isn’t chatting shit about them part of the deal? I’ll give it to Meghan - she provides her money’s worth. It’s a different story for Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage, which is a fictional account of one year (1878) in the life of the sovereign. Played by the amazing Vicky Krieps, Elisabeth has just turned 40 and is subject to the vicissitudes not only of age, but, shock, also a public who cannot grasp the dynamics of time and how it affects women entering their autumn years.

corsage review

Picking up with Elisabeth at a beleaguered point in her life, Kreutzer’s film opens with a collocation of constructed falsities: we see Elisabeth fake a faint to get out of public duties, while behind closed doors her feckless husband Emperor Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister) peels off some false mutton chops. Corsage constructs a recognisably contemporary world of image and public persona, an approach reinforced by the film’s diegetic score of stuff like a lute-played As Tears Go By, and visual anachronisms such as a relocation of cinema’s invention and the use of intravenous drugs (!). Such confections present Corsage as a parable, a fitting approach to any royal figure, whose reception depends as much upon myth making and public impression as it does hard biography.

In the ensuing character study, we see Sissi at once attempt to forge an independence, but also kotow to the public expectations of her: starving herself, exercising, forcing her body into the titular figure crushing regalia. Along the way, she has an affair with her riding coach, and faces the approbation of not only her husband and the court, but her own adolescent son who remonstrates that she "abandons herself to every whim without considering your position." By position, he means the public impression of her, of course. It’s a lot to ask, to be constantly ‘on’ all the time, in a role as joyless as it thankless (at least Meghan seems to be living her absolute best life, despite the haterz). In one of the film's conspicuous parallels with Diana Spencer, Sissi visits wounded soldiers and lies down in a hospital bed to share cigarettes with one; in another she stalks the other woman who Franz is knocking off while furtively pursuing her own affair with a sexy foreigner. Subtle Corsage ain’t: visiting an asylum for fallen women, one poor lady is bunched into a restrictive cage for her own good. The camera pointedly lingers...

corsage review

As when the final shots conform to the accepted feminist narrative of last resort empowerment (think Ophelia and Virginia Woolf’s final moments), Kreutzer deals within transferable forms and universal tropes to make a wider point about the perception of women. Likewise, the mise-en-scene of warm mahogany shades, and colourful costumes of powder blue/unblemished cream is a familiar pleasure, along with that wide angle shot you get in costume dramas where there is a long table, and each character sits at the opposite end to express their estrangement. Krieps is, of course, magnetic and imbues the occasional on-the-nose stylings of Corsage with depth and feeling, sometimes characterising the entire tone of a scene with a twist of her lip or a directed glance, transcending her Elisabeth beyond mere archetype and the limited perceptions of her public. Let’s hope someone equally as talented plays Meghan in Corsage’s 2150 equivalent.

Corsage is on MUBI UK now.