Review by Joseph Fayed
Imagine a period piece featuring a protagonist who may or may not feel more like an outsider than they do a member of royalty. Imagine a screenplay that reminds you that women have dealt with the same societal expectations for centuries. Writer-director Marie Kreutzer uses both approaches to tell the story she chooses to tell in Corsage.
The film follows Empress Elisabeth of Austria, played by Vicky Krieps, as she turns 40 and deals with her image to both the public and those who know her the best. Elisabeth's marriage is falling apart, she is told she needs to lose weight, and she becomes depressed. Despite the many supportive figures in her life, Elisabeth still struggles with these pressures and constantly searches for a feeling of liberation.
The most effective part of the historical fiction drama was its emphasis on multiple aspects of Elisabeth's life. Being told over a year of Elisabeth's life helps the story feel less stagnant. While Elisabeth may have lived an interesting life, one aspect of it being at the center of this film would easily make her character one-dimensional. While that pacing may be unsatisfactory to some viewers, each title card with a different date is like another act beginning, and Elisabeth's 40th year of life comes full circle by the end.
Vicky Krieps's performance carries this film. Having held her own acting alongside some great talents in the past, Krieps has fun with her character by making her seem more eccentric. She is not overtly quirky, yet there are moments where her presence feels like it belongs in a dark comedy. Elisabeth is acted as an out-of-place millennial in 19th-century Austria, and here it works.
Many comparisons between this film and Marie Antoinette have been made, but this is a very different film beyond the surface level. Sure, both films feature modern music in their score, but Corsage places more of an emphasis on aging defiantly than acting out of defiance. Now that she is considered "old" by beauty standards, we see Elisabeth as a character with no holds barred against those who judge her social status. Why she chooses to act out is a large part of the story's appeal.
Corsage is an ode to nobody despite its historical influences. But it's the characterization of Empress Elisabeth that will have your attention over its historical inaccuracies.
Corsage is now playing in theaters.