I watched Corsage in Kino International without English subtitles. I was wandering around on a boring Sunday trying to find a film to watch, and didn’t notice that it didn’t have subtitles, DF. Kino International might be the cinema that I wanted to visit, but something was withholding me for a long time. Maybe because it looks so classic and I was feeling that I might not be able to follow some manners. But this film was a good fit for the special visit. The average age of the audience was a bit more than 60. Not sure if it was just a coincidence or if the film was a period drama that didn’t attract the youth. Or, maybe the film audience is aging anyways, the senescent seventh art… Conversely, the feminist and queer perspective of the film was really fresh and contemporary. It was unlike the period dramas I had watched before.
Watching films in a language I don’t understand always reminds me of the short interview with Jim Jarmusch in a car where he talks about how he likes watching films in languages that he doesn’t understand. I haven’t seen many, but the last one I remember was Dolan’s Matthias et Maxime (2019). I had hoped it would include enough English dialogues to understand, aber nie, almost no English at all. Still, I could track the emotions and the plot roughly. The same happened with Corsage, but I still enjoyed it. Plus, Sisi was speaking maybe four or five languages fluently in the film. Which I also don’t understand most of the time.
Wikipedia time. Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria, also called Sisi/Sissi was first the Duchess of Bavaria, then the Empress of Austria, and even Queen of Hungary for some time. She’s famous for many things: her looks and physical regimen, the Mayerling incident, and her assassination. There are also a lot of plays, films, and tv series dedicated to her: Sternberg, Cocteau, and Visconti are the first names who worked around her story. The most popular films are probably the ones from the 50s, starring Romy Schneider. The IMDB trivia mentions that there were five Austrian/German productions about her life only during the year 2021. Not following a committed biopic storyline, Corsage focuses on only one year of her life in 1877. The camera intentionally excludes many aspects of the public and formal life and instead focuses on private life.
The best thing about the film was the acting and the depth of the character, Sisi. The film opens with a suspenseful scene where Sisi holds her breath in a bathtub for quite a long time. I read some critics reading it as a metaphor for the film. It’s a character study about the struggles around psychology on the one hand, but it’s more about the societal structure that squeezes the character, even if she’s a Duchess. Melancholy. Thinking of it together with the film title, corsage, the film’s perspective towards the character is pretty clear. Sisi had many touching moments in the film, such as waking her daughter in the middle of the night to go for a horse ride, lying down on the bed of an injured soldier while visiting the army in the emergency room and sharing cigarettes with him, the final dance scene where her beard grows out of nowhere or the drug scenes in general.
While saying the ‘best thing,’ I forgot the other best thing: hearing Camille. Incidentally, it’ll be the second Dolan-related reference in the short text, but after encountering Camille with Paris and Tout dit and loving her songs, I fell in love with her opening song, Home Is Where It Hurts, in Dolan’s Juste la fin du monde (2016). It’s still one of my favorites. In Corsage, another song of her is used, “She was“. I thought the way the song is employed in the film was similar to Juste la fin du monde. Very high and ecstasizing the audience in just the correct scene. 💚 for Camille.
Vicky Krieps talks about her preparations for the film in an interview (from Cannes?), mentioning the training for horse riding, fencing, learning enough Hungarian, and ice swimming. While watching the film, I was impressed by the range of sports activities that Sisi was doing. She also elucidates how the idea of the film arose with her mentioning the idea to make a film about Elisabeth to Marie Kreutzer. I’ll try to redact the second part of the interview where she mentions how the film was born out of her childhood:
The idea comes from me. Because I saw these Romy Schneider movies when I was a little girl. And because in my household it was all about Janis Joplin and I was not allowed to watch princess movies… It was very exciting when I could go to my neighbor and watch princess movies, which was Sisi. So I loved them as a little girl. And when I was 14, I read the biography. And reading the biography, I thought, 14, I was too naive to really understand but it was enough to leave me with this enigma and like the puzzled about why was the woman like this? Why was she building the first fitness machines? Why was she not taking pictures? What was the problem? Or was she crazy, or you know… So when I worked in Vienna with Marie Kreutzer, seven years back, I said ‘Why is no one making a movie about Sisi, you know like a real one’? Because, 14, I had a feeling … some kind of mystery around the image we all have… And she laughed at me, she was like ‘hahaha, no, no one will do that, it’s kitch it’s not interesting’. And I said ‘really? Because, you know, when I read, young girl, I thought it was, it was’. And then nothing. And then, three years later … That’s really woman power. Without a word, without a bla bla… I get a finished script in my postbox, with a postcard saying: ‘Well I did go to the archive then, and you were right.’