The Reel Review
Vicky Krieps stars in this fictionalized historical drama about a year in the life of Austria’s Empress Elisabeth. Starting with her 40th birthday in 1877, as she officially becomes what was then considered an old woman, Sisi, as she was known, feels increasingly isolated and constricted by her royal ceremonial duties, preferring a life of more personal freedom, as symbolized by her ever-tightening corsage/corset.
Showcasing modern day pop tunes, ornate costumes and lush cinematography reminiscent of Sophia Coppola’s 2006 own revisionist biopic Marie Antoinette, Corsage is less an actual story and more an arthouse character study of the rebellious, beauty obsessed Sisi, who became Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary when she married Emperor Franz Joseph at the age of 16. Frustratingly, the film has some sloppy production goofs – including the presence of an emergency exit sign in an early fencing scene – and a strange and presumably symbolic ending that ignores key moments of Sisi’s life, including the 1889 murder-suicide of her son and his mistress and death of her sister in 1897, a year before her own assassination.
While Krieps (Phantom Thread, Old) does an excellent job capturing the frustration of a royal figurehead yearning for more personal independence, the slow-moving film from writer/director Marie Kreutzer is itself frustratingly pointless – with a dull screenplay lacking both the historical accuracy to satisfy traditionalists and the pizzazz to satisfy those wanting more fantasy. Like the real-life empress, Corsage is pretty to look at, but is all style and very little substance.
• In real life, Austria’s Empress Elizabeth was assassinated in 1898 at the age of 60 when an Italian anarchist shoved a four-inch-long needle into her heart and lungs as she walked down a street in Geneva, Switzerland.
• Vicky Krieps, who won the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard award for her performance in Corsage, came up with the idea for the movie while working with writer/director Marie Kreutzer on the 2016 film We Used to Be Cool.
• While portrayed sympathetically in Corsage, in real life, Austria’s Empress Elizabeth was said to be selfish, cold and cruel to her devoted husband and children, preferring to spend most of her time with various lovers around the world. She used corsets throughout her life to maintain a painfully ridiculous, 19″ waist.