‘Corsage’ gives a modern edge to Austria’s Empress Elisabeth

‘Corsage’ gives a modern edge to Austria’s Empress Elisabeth

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Things had gotten a little real on the set of “Corsage,” but no one expected the star, Vicky Krieps, to jump out the window that day.

The scene involved a sparring match between Krieps, playing Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and Florian Teichtmeister as Emperor Franz Joseph. It’s a straight match, and Elisabeth is supposed to win, amid a heated debate. But Teichtmeister decided to change the choreography at this point in order to win instead.

The film, which is now showing in limited release and was recently shortlisted for an Oscar nomination, was meant to be an empathetic examination of a misunderstood woman trapped in the prison of her gender. , her time, her position, her fame and beauty. This was a moment where she got a little stronger than the man and a man had just taken her down.

He hit Kriepsi hard.

When Teichtmeister came out, the scene was technically over, but Krieps was still in it. The director, Marie Kreutzer, kept the cameras rolling as she always does, and suddenly Krieps was crying. Then she went to the window and jumped. Everyone gasped.

“Why is she climbing out the window?” – called the director of photography.

She was fine, mind you. The room was on the first floor. But it wasn’t in the script.

The film was actually, technically, Kriep’s idea. She had been fascinated by the 19th-century empress since she was a young girl, when – unbeknownst to her feminist mother who rejected “princess stuff” – she watched Ernst Marischka’s Sisi trilogy at the home of a Friend. Movies from the 1950s starring Romy Schneider, to whom Elisabeth’s nickname refers, are a staple of holiday broadcasts in Europe. As a teenager, Krieps went a little further and got a biography.

“I have always been suspicious of anything too beautiful and perfect. I was too young to rationally understand the whole thing, but I felt connected to this woman and I felt that she was trapped,” Krieps said. “They described her as very eccentric, riding a lot, wearing a corset all the time, not eating, using exercise equipment. I kept thinking, but why? I had a suspicion she was sad or angry, but I couldn’t read anything into it. It just stuck with me.”

In 2016, after working with Kreutzer on the film We Used to Be Cool, Krieps asked him if he would like to make their own Sis film together. Kreutzer refused.

“Marie thought it was a very bad idea,” Krieps said. “She literally said, ‘What? No, that’s stupid.”

Kreutzer, who is Austrian, had grown up with the kitschy trilogy and Elisabeth’s face on merchandise everywhere. In her memory, she wasn’t even sure Krieps was serious, but she knew she wanted to make a period piece. So it was a shock to Krieps when, a few years later, she opened her letter box to find a script from Kreutzer.

“Dear Vicki, I think you were right,” read an accompanying postcard.

The film is not your standard costume picture, or even a straightforward biopic for practical and thematic reasons.

“I knew there had to be a different style,” Kreutzer said. “We wanted it to look less fancy and more simple.”

“Corsage” begins when Elisabeth turns 40, and the film has modern flourishes and a soundtrack with music by French pop star Camille. Some have compared it to Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette,” though, as one person told Kreutzer, “less ironic.”

“If I were to put it in musical terms, ‘Marie Antoinette’ is pop and ‘Corsage’ is acoustic,” Kreutzer said.

And it came just in time for Krieps, who had just become much more famous after the success of “Phantom Thread” and felt like she had seen herself behind the curtain.

“To me, she really seemed like the first victim of celebrity culture,” Krieps said of Elisabeth. “I remember saying to Marie: ‘Now we are all Sisi because we have Instagram and Facebook and we have become victims of our own image.’

The filming was quite difficult. For one, Krieps decided to wear a corset all the time to really feel what Elisabeth was feeling. This, she admits now, was a mistake, but one she made.

“I’m so stubborn,” said Krieps, who — thanks to long days on set — ended up wearing a corset for far more hours than any woman of the era, even Sisi.

It was difficult to sit, ride, circle and breathe. She couldn’t eat or drink coffee with him and mostly stuck to smoothies and nighttime eating. She and Kreutzer also decided that she would remain a little isolated and removed from the cast, which was difficult in many ways.

“Normally, she always talked to everyone and was very close to people. It’s really one of her strong points. She’s able to connect with people and make people feel seen and not based on whether they’re important or not,” Kreutzer said. “But I realized early on that this was not good for her as empress.”

When it came time to film the fence scene, Krieps was feeling everything very deeply.

“It was a very sad day. It was actually very painful for me. I thought, really? You make a movie about it and it’s happening now,” she said. “That day my pain was beyond anything I could handle and I had to go somewhere with it. That’s why I went out the window.”

The only other thought in her mind was, “I hope there’s no scaffolding below.”

She never really asked her co-star, whom she loves and respects and knows to be kind, why he made that decision. Maybe he was unconscious? Maybe his ego took over? But it made her feel connected to something bigger than the movie.

Kreutzer had somehow forgotten about jumping out the window somewhere in the blur of filming and post-production. They had actually shot another window dance scene – that was scripted. Then, in editing, she rediscovered it. The lighting wasn’t perfect, but it was raw. And in the end, that unscripted one made the cut.

“It was the first film I hated doing, but I love watching it. When I watch it, I cringe every time because I feel this release that we all need so badly,” Krieps said. “Women have such deep, deep generational scars. And we have to talk about it, we have to heal and we have to get out of it.”


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