2.5 out of 5 stars
The struggles of managing celebrity is not unique to this era; there are examples of how different historical figures faced the same challenges as those in modern times. Australian writer/director Marie Kreutzer (The Ground Beneath My Feet) attempts to show how true to life Empress Elizabeth of Austria (Vicky Krieps) worked through this isolating reality of fame with a modern spin. Albeit an actual historical figure, the majority of this tale about her 40th birthday and the year that comes afterward is fictionalised to make her story accessible to today’s audience.
The year is 1877 when Elizabeth (nicknamed Sissi) is looking at the celebration of four decades on the earth. At the time, this was the median age for most women, and her role as the Empress had been whittled down through the years to mere appearances to show off her beauty. Yet, her inner restlessness caused her to seek new knowledge of the world and find love in the arms of men who appreciated her for more than her beauty. Despite having responsibilities to her family, she chose to travel to various parts of Europe to reignite the fervour for life she missed from her younger years. All the while, the disenchanted royal does all she can to perpetuate her youthful figure and looks through various treatments and corsets. This eventually leads her to conclude that she would be better off dead than continue in this state of dissatisfaction. Even though her family and close counsel hope for her thoughts to turn back to appreciate her status in the world, Elizabeth continues on this mental spiral into despair.
After watching this depressing storyline of unhappiness, the highlight could primarily rest on Vicky Krieps’ performance. The German actress captures this character's despondency and beauty, which work against each other like an internal war of her soul. While the rest of the cast seems to be written in two-dimensional formulations that support the central role, but are all entirely forgettable in the end. Even the stark backgrounds of each castle and outdoor escapade carry the same sorrowful allure of the Empress, which captures the screenplay's tone.
Yet, the struggle with this film comes in the fictionalised history format. This writing style conveys that this all happened in the aristocrat's life. Except after briefly studying the actual history of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, what is known is that she did have some of the difficulties portrayed in the film. Still, most of this movie is not true to her past. She lived to be 60 and was tragically assassinated by an Italian anarchist. Suppose anyone is to look into her actual life. In that case, it may make some wonder why Marie Kreutzer would utilise this historical figure to communicate her modern-day views of the world's hierarchical system. Despite being an effective filmmaker and proving her ability to write exceptionally layered characters, there seems to be a need for more progress in rewriting history to push agendas.
Corsage proves to be a dark and cynical view of the royal lifestyles of the late 1800 that carries with it a strong female lead. Yet, her descent into a fabricated world of mental turmoil is evocative, but lacks any entertainment value for the viewer.
REEL DIALOGUE: When you have everything this life offers, where do you go for satisfaction?
Corsage portrays a woman who seems to have all that the world has to offer: Money, fame, relationships, and influence that others envy. Yet, in this world of plenty, Empress Elizabeth seems dissatisfied with what she has been given and looks for satisfaction elsewhere. It all seems to be chasing after the wind...
When it comes to dissatisfaction with life, times have not changed since the late 1800’s or even thousands of years prior when Solomon spoke of this very thing in Ecclesiastes. This book of wisdom addresses this existential angst we all experience. Also, it gives a surprising answer that is worth considering.
Passages on dissatisfaction: The Book of Ecclesiastes, John 4, Hebrews 13:4
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