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Review: Corsage

January 6, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A fictionalized biopic of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (played by Vicky Krieps), Corsage is the sort of reimagined period piece that takes some artistic liberties to offer a more modern portrait of a dissatisfied monarch.

Set in 1877 and 1878, around Elisabeth’s 40th birthday, the film charts her somewhat strained relationship to husband Emperor Franz Joseph I (Florian Teichtmeister), who is preoccupied with ruling over the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. She is left to obsess over her weight (the film is named after the German word for a corset) and appearance, while engaging in increasingly erratic behaviour.

Written and directed by Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer, Corsage is a period piece that plays fast and loose with convention and anachronisms (including an inspired soundtrack that features a rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By”). If not nearly as bold as Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoninette, Kreutzer has crafted something in a similar vein, exploring the life of a historical woman in a way that is relatable and sympathetic to contemporary audiences.

Krieps, best known for Phantom Thread, brings both a sense of playfulness and understated emotion to her portrayal of the Empress, who is shown to be prone to bouts of melancholia and is acutely aware of her place in society as a symbolic figurehead. Her actions range from impulsive to defiant, such as taking her young daughter for a horseback ride in the middle of the night, flipping the middle finger at a dinner party (a moment fittingly shown on the poster), or embarking on romantic affairs that become fodder for gossip and embarrass her young adult son Rudolf (Aaron Friesz). Equally unconventional are her frequent visits to the insane asylum to bring candied violets to the patients.

While not as outwardly eccentric as The Favourite, Corsage is nonetheless cut from the same cloth as a period piece made for more modern sensibilities. The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Judith Kaufman, whose stately compositions of the scenes often highlight the film’s inherent dry wit, and help showcase Krieps’ striking lead performance.

Corsage is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

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