Corsage by Marie Kreutzer [9/10]

Apparently the subject of “Corsage,” Empress Elisabeth of Austria from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is immensely popular in retrospect. As an anti-royalist much more preoccupied with modern history than with earlier times, I had never heard of her and for the first quarter hour of this resolutely arthouse movie, I chafed. This imaginative survey of the empress’s life over about a year in 1877-78 casts the royal one as a beauty who is hemmed in by her role. The cinematography portrays a gloomy if spectacular world of palaces and mansions, a world that confines our hero to having her corsage cinched tight in order to display the proper female figure and to ceremonial appearances. Writer/director Marie Kreutzer glides from episode to episode, often inconclusively, offers up ahistorical events, and messes with gender inferences, and my early experience in the cinema filled me with dread about the entire movie. But Kreutzer authoritatively ratchets up the emotional angst with powerful scene after powerful scene, until the ending feels borne on tragic wings. And the music! Two modern songs redone as if past are one thing, but the multiple arrangements of Camille’s “She Was” tore at my heart. The conclusion is enigmatic and I like it just so, a fitting ending to a film I barely understand but see as brilliant and heartbreaking.

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