Actress Vicky Krieps (“The Phantom Thread”) commands the screen in “Corsage” with her portrayal of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Written and directed by Marie Kreutzer, the film is Austria’s official submission for the Best International Film at the 2023 Academy Awards.
As her 40th birthday approaches, Empress Elisabeth is thrown into turmoil as she anticipates old age and a loss of interest in life. She’s both renowned for and obsessed with her beauty, as that was her primary function to stand alongside her husband, the Emperor.
Elisabeth’s obsession with her appearance leads her to eating less, demanding that her dresses be as tight as possible, and forcing the artist assigned to her royal portrait to simply draw her from one of her previous hanging portraits.
Elisabeth frequently engages in horseback riding, which is one of the few things she finds enjoyable in her very unencumbered life. She using her skill at riding to prove to onlookers, like her sister, that she’s not lost a step.
She frequently visits mentally ill women in sanitariums and wounded soldiers at an infirmary in search of attention. She devours the soldiers’ glances and compliments with more pleasure than any meal she eats in the film.
One of her more interesting adventures is when Elisabeth accepts an invitation to experiment with an early film camera. It’s here that she experiences brief moments of life returning to her shell, and this very footage is wisely used again at the end of the film.
It seems that Elisabeth gains no pleasure from being a mother, or any sense of purpose from that role. She’d rather have an affair with her cousin or find any distraction that can ease her melancholy. A doctor ultimately prescribes Morphine to treat Elisabeth’s condition.
When the morphine addiction becomes all consuming, Elisabeth cuts her hair and has a stand-in perform her public duties. This relationship becomes a bit of a fascination for her, and ultimately Elisabeth replaces herself with the stand-in and finally escapes her mortal shackles.
“Corsage” is at its core a character study of a bored, wealthy woman who comes off as an impetuous, selfish human. The fact that the character and film are at all engrossing relies on the nuance of Krieps’ performance. She’s able to layer in so much with her expressions and physicality, building far beyond the dialogue of Kreutzer’s script.
The film closes with Elisabeth on a ship and it’s apt to say that the movie often felt rudderless. The aimless nature of many scenes felt stitched together in the edit, not sharing any cohesive DNA and ultimately proving that Krieps contributions can only do so much to aid this endeavor.
Letter Grade: B-