Film: “Corsage” directed by Marie Kreutzer. In limited distribution
Elisabeth (aka “Sisi”) who served as the last empress of Austria, seems to be on everybody’s radar these days. It may have started with Netflix’s elegant 6-episode series “The Empress”. Which in turn may have led to the packed crowds we saw in Vienna’s Sisi Museum 2 weeks ago.
At any rate we now have “Corsage,” a new film directed by Marie Kreurzer that’s already swept the awards circuit even though it’s in limited distribution here in the US (currently playing at the Bunin in NYC).
For those still living under a schnitzel-shaped rock, Elisabeth (aka “Sisi”) was not your run-of-the-mill queen consort. Born in Munich in 1837 (and a distant cousin of Mad King Ludwig),she so bowled over the young Frank Josef at their first meeting 16 years later, he chose Sisi as his bride instead of the woman he was supposed to marry—her older sister.
Sisi became the sort of empress who eschewed pomp and circumstance. She flirted with FJ’s younger brother Maximilian, and mingled openly with the poorer classes in Vienna, incurring the wrath of her very pompous and powerful mother-in-law.
“Corsage,” starring the ravishing Vicki Kreips as Sisi, picks up where the Netflix series leaves off. It’s now twenty years later (1870s) and the 40-something Empress’s eccentricities are in full flower. We see her, among other things, fencing; exercising by swinging from brass rings in her bed chamber; and rousing her bewildered little daughter (Rosa Hajjaj) in the middle of the night to go horseback riding.
also developed an eating disorder, restricting herself at times to a few slices of oranges at dinner. She is also masochistic, insisting on being squeezed into a corset every day (aka the “Corsage” that’s referenced in the film’s title.) The corset serves as a metaphor for the restrictive life she has as Empress.
In a Q-and-A after the screening, Kreips revealed she was given free reign to improvise on her eccentric character, and with the aid of her director of photography has one scene where she dances solo in a nightgown while sporting a mustache.
The director herself is no slouch when it comes to breaking convention: Kreutzer creates an imaginary character, a French photographer, who takes the first black-and-white movies of Sissi. Elsewhere throughout “Corsage,” Sisi and her dinner guests are serenaded by tunes originally performed by, of all people, Kris Kristofferson and the Rolling Stones.
“Corsage” in short is an unusual portrayal, told through the lens of female identity, of an unhappy monarch who was nevertheless a progressive, contemporary role model in so many ways. Let us hope it opens in more theaters (or is streaming) soon as it cannot help but add a dollop of Viennese schlag to your day. Prosit.