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Film Review: Corsage (2022)

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

Kelaru & Fulton rating: ★★★

Available on Prime Video | Runtime: 1hr 54 mins

 

Austrian director Marie Kreutzer takes a refreshingly feminist approach to the period drama genre with Corsage, a dramatised portrayal of the later years of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Vicky Krieps delivers a captivating lead performance as the aging Empress, nicknamed Sisi, struggling against the confines of aristocratic life in 1877 Vienna. Though the lavish costumes and palace intrigue seem familiar, Kreutzer upends expectations by revealing Sisi as a complex, sympathetic woman chafing under the scrutiny and expectations of her role.

Though known for her legendary beauty and fashionable image, Sisi no longer sees herself in the nickname "the loveliest woman in the world." Approaching 40, Sisi engages in sometimes dangerous practices like fasting and exercise to maintain the public persona on which her notoriety and influence depends. Krieps perfectly captures her simmering discontent and quest for purpose beyond the ceremonial duties and motherhood wished upon her. We see Sisi's conflict between upholding traditions and exploring her own desires, as during a liberating trip to England without her imperial entourage.


The film resists heavy-handed morals, yet subtly questions social structures limiting Sisi's autonomy. Lush visuals of Sisi tightly laced into extravagant gowns contrast moments of rebellion, like her refusing food, medicine, and courtly duties. She forges connections with an actress and doctor with non-traditional lifestyles for 19th century women. Corsage thoughtfully examines how Sisi navigates obligations and assertions of independence within environments demanding she exist more as image than individual.

Corsage brings nuance and humanity to a historical figure often mythologized into caricature. Kreutzer succeeds in crafting an engaging, aesthetically gorgeous film that also feels fresh and relevant. Sisi's struggles resonate across time periods, recalling universal themes of women negotiating their sense of self within societies allowing them little control.



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