A look at a year in the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (played by Vicky Krieps), this fictional historical tale is actually an entertaining and insightful indictment of how women have been used, and continued to be used, as powerless figureheads, trophies for their husbands to show off while they remain shiny and pretty enough to dazzle those around them.
Krieps relishes another strong female role, playing someone becoming more and more fed up of the gossip and criticism surrounding her looks and behaviour as she strives to find ways in which she can make a difference to the lives of people looking up to her for guidance and support. This causes the most friction when she sees the many wounded and dying soldiers who are where they are because of a war waged by her husband (Emperor Franz Joseph, played by Florian Teichtmeister).
Written and directed by Marie Kreutzer (who also delivered the excellent The Ground Beneath My Feet), Corsage is a film that spends most of the runtime showing a woman struggling to retain her freedom and strong will while many around her try to bind her (sometimes literally, as happens with the titular corsage). It is, sadly, yet another film set in the past that shines a light on attitudes and behaviours that exist everywhere around us today. Thankfully, fighting spirits will always aim to call out the BS and upset the status quo.
While numerous others fill out the cast list, this film is owned by Krieps for almost every minute of it. Her strength shines through, even when she is feeling at her weakest and most vulnerable, and she wanders through the cold and stuffy environments surrounding her like ball lightning. The only downside of her marvellous performance is how much it made me angry all over again about whatever the hell Shyamalan did to get such a poor performance out of her in Old. Teichtmeister is also very good, as is everyone else onscreen, but the film is inarguably owned by Krieps, giving yet another tour-de-force performance to add to her impressive résumé.
Slightly anachronistic at times, but not jarringly so, Kreutzer makes use of the societal schmoozing and royal protocols to show the mix of small and large obstacles that are constantly put in the way of strong women. There are obvious parallels to be made between this headstrong royal and one or two other modern equivalents, but the point is never belabored. Events are shown as they play out, and viewers are left to make connections and judgements, or not, as they wish.
Stylish, smart, and presenting a fictional version of a character that I am now intrigued to learn much more about, Corsage is a film that reminds us of how stories can be used to tell truths without being obsessed with factual accuracy. In fact, sometimes a dry and academic approach can get in the way of what can actually be learned.
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