Korsg shows the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary. A film about agency, older women, and restrictive social models – then as now. The Gap asked director Marie Kreutzer for an interview.
© Pamela Rossmann – “Korsage” Director Marie Kreutzer
Few historical figures from Austria have been recorded in the collective memory as Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary. She is known as Sisi – or Sisi – and above all as a beautiful young woman with long, full hair, a thin waist and gorgeous dresses. In the famous series of films from the 50s, she played Romy Schneider – another legendary woman. Even today, Sisi adorns T-shirts, soaps, mugs, and packets of chocolate — they’ve become a symbol of a supposedly more wonderful time. The fact that people are more complex than the stories we tell about them (in the media) is not a groundbreaking discovery, but it should always be taken into account.
Marie Kreutzer mostly dissects the urban upper middle class in her films. In Corsage, however, she tells the partially fictional story of an aging empress who seeks her release, showing anger, and thus upsetting those around her in court.
Elizabeth is a cult figure. Another movie about her is currently being planned, and there are also two new series, “Al-Sisi” and “The Empress”. Why is this character so cool?
Marie Kreuzer: The current backlog of cinematic edits can’t be explained by anything and I’m amazed myself. There are certainly explanations for the magic – such as escaping into historical material in the face of a crumbling contemporary world – but what was interesting to me was that Elizabeth lived at the end of an era for him. The monarchy shouldn’t have been around for much longer at that time.
Why do you treat the elderly Elizabeth in the movie? How did the tightrope between fact and fiction go?
This age stage has fascinated me the most, and I know the least about it. Everyone knows the beginning and end of the story, but not the middle part, since Elizabeth had to deal with the fact that she could no longer play the role of a beautiful young empress. After research, she wrote a fictional story in the field of tension between facts, rumors and anecdotes and tried to revive Elizabeth’s own idea. There was a strong impression of a complex and contradictory person who had nothing to do with the beautiful image of Sisi.
Corsage is a historical movie. What challenges did this pose?
The biggest challenge for me was co-production. This makes everything bigger and more complex. The film has been produced in at least four countries and three languages. The team was too big to say good morning everyone. These were all new experiences and in the end they were more challenging for me than the content or the central character of the film. At some point, the real model doesn’t have to matter anyway, since you can never do everything right for everyone.
Elizabeth was famous for her beauty, but she was also an excellent knight, wrote poetry and traveled a lot. However, it seems that her appearance determines her image. Many (famous) women feel the same way. Can Empress Elizabeth be considered her “ancestor”?
Exactly, that’s what piqued my interest. I think you can see in the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial that such a revealing woman cannot properly comprehend that every detail of her appearance and statements are harshly judged and vilified by the media and the public. All women struggle all their lives with the fact that they have to achieve a big image of a woman. Women in public are judged mercilessly.
To what extent have female role models and social freedom changed since Elizabeth’s era?
Emancipation has given us so much, but we are still far, far, far from equal rights. Patriarchy holds us all – men included – firmly in its grasp. Today, women are “allowed” – at least in the Western world! – Much more. But they also have to be much more than that: we should be good mothers, beautiful wives, tolerant, supportive and exciting partners, understanding friends, and successful professionals with a social and environmental conscience. All at the same time – no one can do that.
In “Corsage” Elizabeth appears as a miserable woman. In our society there seems to be a fascination with beautiful, sad women. why?
I think “Sorrowful Beautiful Woman” is a display and at the same time not a threat to a man. It was very important for me not only to show Elizabeth the suffering, but to give her strength, aggression and anger. Something that threatens and worries those around you.
You have previously covered the topic of mental health in The Ground Under Your Feet. During your research, did you see any commonalities in dealing with mental health?
I had previously searched a lot on psychiatry for “The Ground Beneath Your Feet” and then found the topic again in “Corsage” because Elizabeth herself was as fascinated with psychiatry as I was. Of course, a lot has evolved. In Elizabeth’s days, “adultery” was already grounds for imprisonment – mind you, only adultery committed by a woman. However, the mesh bed, which can also be seen in the “Korsage”, was still in use in Austria a few years ago.
Food and music also play a role in corsage.
I heard music while writing. The challenge is getting the rights and, in this case, incorporating the music in a way that doesn’t sound alien to a historical film. Food plays an important role in Elizabeth’s rejection of him. It is an ironic irony that women in particular, who never have to go hungry, voluntarily choose to starve in order to get thin.
Your feature film was first released in 2011. Has the industry become more diverse since you joined?
No. I think changing the ÖFI guidelines, under which the quota must be observed, will help. The quota isn’t a neat gadget and I always prefer elegance, but words haven’t moved enough. Awareness is greater, but action must follow.
“Al-Sadar” already alludes to freedom in the title. How do you define freedom for yourself and how do you try to live it?
Freedom is when I can shape my life by myself. Today we see it as a great honor to be able to do this. I try to be thankful for this freedom. I see Ukraine, I see women in Afghanistan – it makes me desperate and angry. We often take our freedom for granted, but we must value it and name it in order to have it.
Korsig, directed by Marie Kreutzer, can be seen in Austrian cinemas from July 7, 2022.