INTERVIEW WITH MARIE KREUTZER – Director
“She just disappeared right in front of their eyes.” – Marie Kreutzer on Corsage
QUESTION 1: Marie Kreutzer, like (almost) everyone of your generation, you grew up with Romy Schneider as Sissi. The trilogy still screens on television every Christmas here. It depicts Empress Elisabeth as a young obedient monarch in a kitschy, folklore-style setting. Your Elisabeth, on the other hand, is 40, so she’s an old woman by the standards of her day, grappling with her life and searching for some way to escape its constraints. What interested you about this Elisabeth–and what do you think about the Sissi films?
I had actually never seen the Sissi trilogy until I started doing research for Corsage. But of course depictions of Sissi were everywhere nonetheless. I’ve lived in Vienna since 1996, and you see her face a hundred times in every souvenir shop. Sissi is certainly our city’s central tourist attraction. The project started out with Vicky Krieps asking me years ago if I’d like to make a Sissi film with her sometime. Because the souvenirs were the only association that occurred to me, I replied: What on earth for? But somewhere inside me the idea was bubbling away and after a while I began to read up on her. I approached the material with an absolutely open mind, with no idea whether anything would come of it; I just wanted to see if there was something there that touched me and appealed to me. And I very quickly discovered that this was the phase in Elisabeth’s life when, on the one hand, she began to rebel against all the ceremony and, on the other hand, started to withdraw and isolate herself; a time when it had quite obviously become impossible for her to squeeze herself into a predetermined template.There’s that sense of always having to live up to an outsized image of yourself, as that’s the only way for you to gain recognition and love–I found that both extremely interesting and universal.
QUESTION 2: Your Empress Elisabeth lives in a tight corset of self-restraint and societal censure. At first she is still keen to measure up to her own aspirations, as well as satisfying public expectations that she will conform to an idealized image. For decades she helped cement that image with her cult of beauty and iconic braided hairstyle. But Elisabeth has grown older–and is tired of passing muster as an image of perfection. Is that just a problem for Elisabeth or a perpetual state of affairs in women’s lives?
INTERVIEW WITH VICKY KRIEPS – Elisabeth
“I’m giving her a chance to do everything she couldn’t back then.” – Vicky Krieps on Empress Elisabeth
QUESTION 1: Vicky Krieps, how did you come to play Empress Elisabeth?
Well, I knew Marie Kreutzer because I had played the lead in her film We Used To Be Cool (Was Hat Uns BloßSo Ruiniert) depicting a young mother struggling with parenthood. After shooting wrapped, we were both absolutely certain that we wanted to do another project together. Not long after that, I asked Marie what she thought about “Sissi”. The idea occurred to me as I’d seen Romy Schneider in the “Sissi” films at our neighbor’s place when I was 15 and read Empress Elisabeth’s biography pretty much in parallel. As a teenager, I had all kinds of questions when I finished the book. Why did Empress Elisabeth have fitness equipment built for her? Why did she refuse to be painted after she was 40? I told Marie all that and she didn’t say a word at first. But then something amazing happened, which reflects what I think is one of women’s great strengths: putting ideas into action rather than just talking and talking. And so one day, a year after we had that conversation, I opened my mailbox and there was an envelope with the finished script. Marie had just added a note saying something like: “I went back to the archives. You were right”. That was so classy.
QUESTION 2: And what did you do next?
Without a moment’s hesitation, my reaction was: Let’s go for it!
QUESTION 3: Empress Elisabeth rides, excels at many sports, speaks multiple languages, and, above all, is anorexically thin. How much time and energy did it take for you to become this monarch?
I did some research for the role and found some books and magazines from that era. They explained how women were meant to behave and how they were supposed to dress and talk. Marriage market conventions in particular exerted enormous pressure on women. Back then, if a man married outside his class–for example, if a nobleman wed a commoner, which would have been quite unusual–the bride would promptly be given a noble title. The exact opposite applied for women. If a noblewoman married a commoner, she would need to find even more money to avoid slipping down the social ladder. Just like today, a woman was also expected to be the most beautiful, the most intelligent, the best of all. And of course, everyone lost out in that kind of competitive set-up. Above all, women’s influence steadily waned as they grew older. In those days, women essentially became invisible when they turned 40. Making herself disappear was also a desperate stab at self-empowerment on Elisabeth’s part.
QUESTION 5: In Corsage, Elisabeth is overwhelmed by fate. Everything she tries by way of distraction appears to be in vain until ultimately the empress comes to a tragic end. Couldn’t she have saved herself?
I think Elisabeth fell prey throughout her life to a certain melancholy, as was common in that era. Depressive tendencies are also documented in her family. Elisabeth was fascinated by poetry, by Heinrich Heine’s poems. What’s more, narcotics used to be viewed as medical treatment back then. Cocaine and heroin naturally penetrate deep into the brain and alter people’s perceptions. We should always factor in that influence when we think aboutElisabeth. And then, of course, there is the tight corset, that feeling of always virtually suffocating, being unable to breathe. In addition, she constantly subjected herself to a kind of slow torture, with diets and endurance sports. That was of course so she could somehow get in touch with herself. That all meant that the possible course she could follow grew narrower and narrower, making it increasingly unlikely she would find a way out. Because I realized that as an actress and of course gradually really empathized with the constraints my character faced, I would often attempt to give Elisabeth a little freedom through my performance. When we were filming,I often thought: I’m giving her a chance to do everything she couldn’t do back then. Smoking, giving someone the finger, cutting off her hair. As an actress, I’m a fan of confrontation and surprises. That’s why I’d often really fool around when I wasn’t on camera.That was my way of experimenting. Above all, the big question for me was: What happens when we all stop pretending?
Watch CORSAGE with us in our February Special Preview screening!
Date: Mon 27 Feb
Venue: Shaw Theatres Lido
Tickets are available via Peatix: https://sfs-corsage.peatix.com/
Dir. Marie Kreutzer
2022 | Austria | Drama/Biography/History | 115 min | German & French with English subtitles | M18 (Nudity & Sexual Scenes)
Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Vicky Krieps) is idolized for her beauty and renowned for inspiring fashion trends. But in 1877, ‘Sissi’ celebrates her 40th birthday and must fight to maintain her public image by lacing her corset tighter and tighter. While Elisabeth’s role has been reduced against her wishes to purely performative, her hunger for knowledge and zest for life makes her more and more restless in Vienna.
She travels to England and Bavaria, visiting former lovers and old friends, seeking the excitement and purpose of her youth. With a future of strictly ceremonial duties laid out in front of her, Elisabeth rebels against the hyperbolized image of herself and comes up with a plan to protect her legacy.
Awards: Winner – Un Certain Regard Award for Best Performance for Vicky Krieps (Cannes Film Festival); Winner – Best Actress (European Film Awards); Austria’s Official Submission to the Oscars for Best International Picture