‘Corsage’ Director Marie Kreutzer on What She Learned About Empress Elisabeth of Austria During Her Research
In IFC Films’ Corset, Vicky Krieps stars as Empress Elisabeth of Austria (known affectionately as Sisi) during a particular life crisis: middle age. After turning 40, the celebrated beauty finds herself fading — at least, she’s convinced as much. With her children grown and her relationship with Emperor Franz Joseph I threatened by her indifference to royal obligations, the disaffected royal becomes bored with her life, wanting nothing more than to hide away from the public that still watches her every move as if she were a 19th century influencer.
Writer-director Marie Kreutzer’s irreverent biopic mixes the stoicism of a classic costume drama with postmodern twists, incorporating anachronistic songs (a chamber version of the Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By” is heard on the soundtrack) and modern-day vulgar hand gestures. The film also plays fast and loose with historical accuracy; rather than a traditional biography, Corset looks at a brief period in Elisabeth’s reign with a feminist revisionism that suggests a different end to her life (the real empress was assassinated in 1898 at the age of 60).
The Vienna-based Kreutzer took advantage of her proximity to the empress’ stomping grounds, often visiting the former Imperial Palace on solo tours during the pandemic. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” says the director, “but I always had the feeling that [returning there] might influence my story.”
What she did find during her research was a woman full of idiosyncracies and inconsistencies — all of which added to the complexities of the character, played with wit and pathos by Krieps. Kreutzer spoke with THR about what inspired her version of the empress as a person and how she imagined the ways in which she would design her life.
THE SISI MUSEUM
As Marie Kreutzer developed the film during the pandemic, she kept returning to the Sisi Museum, dedicated to the empress’ private living quarters. The interiors are “beautiful and wide and golden,” says Kreutzer, but the windows look out onto modern corporate buildings or a graveyard, turning the palatial setting into something more akin to a prison. “None of these spaces are cozy,” adds Kreutzer. “I thought it was so depressing to sit in these beautiful rooms and not see anything [beautiful outside].” The empress’ iron bed, which she would travel with across Europe, still resides there.
PORTRAITS OF SISI
The official portraits of the empress are regal and grand like the one above — exactly what one would expect from European royalty. Yet Kreutzer was drawn to “the kinds of images not used in souvenir shops or on the covers of biographies,” but which allude to Elisabeth’s sadness and longing. Corset serves as an antidote to this kind of classic royal portraiture.
PANTONE PASTEL LILAC
Lilac was the empress’ favorite color, and during her time lilac ink was fashionable and expensive — she even decorated a castle in Hungary entirely in the color. (In the image on the left, Elisabeth is smoking a lilac cigarette.) Kreutzer says it was a challenge to find the right shade for the film: “Personally, I like it when it’s not too pinkish — a little more gray or blue.”
An Austrian textile company founded in 1853, Leitner Leinen is, according to Kreutzer, “very high-quality, but it doesn’t look chic or too expensive.” Having toured the company’s factory while on holiday, the director imagined linen as the preferred fabric for Elisabeth. “It has such a raw quality,” she says. “When you think of an empress, you think of very shiny fabrics like silk or velvet. But linen is more practical.”
“I always listen to a lot of music when I’m writing,” says Kreutzer, adding that the song “Italy” by Soap&Skin (Austrian artist Anja Plaschg), from the album From Gas to Solid / You Are My Friend (below), was a major source of inspiration. “This song came up on shuffle, and I realized what the ending of the film should be.” The track does indeed play over the movie’s final moments.
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.