An Intimate Portrait Of Empress Elizabeth [TIFF]

The cinematography in “Corsage” is sumptuous. There’s a lush vibrancy in each carefully composed shot that compliments the story and elevates the action. Kreutzer skillfully directs the film, crafting interesting compositions that hint at Elizabeth’s hidden life while emphasizing both the rigidity of her routine and the isolation. In the quiet moments — often darkly lit and bathed in candlelight — we see Elizabeth’s intimate, sensual side. At a hospital, Elizabeth in her deep violet attire — from head to toe — marks a startling contrast to the impersonal, astringent white surroundings. She doesn’t belong there — how could she? — but something pulls her to the “lunatic asylum,” perhaps hinting at a clawing depression, deep in her psyche. 

I don’t often speak of the costumes in my reviews (I probably should), but I would be remiss not to address just how striking and stately Krieps looks here. Outfits like her all-black gown with an impossibly small wasp-like waist and a full veil of lace covering her face — it’s beautiful and absolutely surreal at the same time. Her dresses never stray too far from the realm of believability, and yet, she cuts such a distinctive, majestic silhouette that she almost feels out of place in this world — like a fairy queen from a fantasy setting. Given the film’s thematic leanings, this approach to Elizabeth’s costuming is ideal: It honors the real-life Empress’ legacy of beauty while also contributing to the themes Kreutzer wants to explore. 

Like other royalty biopics, “Corsage” suffers from the excess that can turn off some audiences — particularly those already critical of the aristocracy, who are unlikely to sympathize with the extremely privileged lifestyle on display. It may be a tragic premise, but not all viewers will be able to muster up the necessary emotional investment to care about Elizabeth’s boredom.

“Corsage” is an experience. It’s a thoroughly well-crafted film that exudes exquisite taste, all while contemplating the female perspective. Empress Elizabeth, like the suburban housewives of post-war America, may seem to have it all, but she feels useless — her fading beauty and evaporating youth are the only attributes the world seems interested in. It’s a fascinating treatise on femininity and identity — with implications and lessons that apply to the 21st century, as well as the 19th.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

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