The maid of Empress Elizabeth’s most powerful woman took an hour to stay with her every morning. Sisi, the wife of Emperor Franz-Joseph, as she was well known to the subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was famous for her narrow waist, measuring 19 and a half inches; Slight weight gain was a matter of public interest. It looks a lot like Vicky Cripps, who adds a great deal of complexity to the portrait of the Empress in Marie Kreutzer’s Uncertain Regard. Corsage, Shares imperial measurements. Let’s hope this is just a strategy of the camera. The word we hear most often used in 19th-century Vienna’s royal dressing room – or corsage – doesn’t make much sense for small things like ribs.
Sisi was a Bavarian princess, a generous nurture by her royal but bohemian parents, who married the emperor (Florian Teachmister: Greatly restrained) when she was 16 and 44 years on the throne. Kreutzer’s script focuses on just one of those years: 1878, the year CC turned 40, the year his doctor mentioned the average age of death among female subjects. Of course, he is more terrified of his age than anyone else.
Since no one wants her opinion on the state – she annoys her husband by mentioning the excitement in Sarajevo at the breakfast table – she keeps her scattered energy on the go, a technological innovation like the camera that records moving pictures. After all, he concentrates on slimming. CC has never seen a weight loss plan that she doesn’t like. He bathes in the cold, swings in the gymnastics ring in his living room, fences like a zorro, and survives on a diet consisting of mostly beef broth and half a ration of chocolate. Apparently, he had a eating disorder to lose the band.
Historians of the time described him as extraordinarily selfish, even to the standard of people who could shout at servants whenever they liked. Kreutzer is apparently suing Sisi as a woman who has been severely hampered by the combined power of masculinity and court protocol, but she is not a filmmaker to avoid the unpleasant truth. His CC is a textbook narcissist. Men must desire her and women must admire her; Anyone who fails to caress her enough is excluded. His closest lady-in-waiting, Marie (Catherine Lorenz), wrote in her diary – as we hear in a rare voiceover – that she was fascinated by him. “He’s like a book to me, a puzzle on every page.” Hearing this, you would rather think Mary has. You don’t want to be CC, but you don’t want to know him. Even in the film, he is a thorny companion.
Visual creation by photographer Judith Kaufman Corsage It is as formal as the world. The dynamic camera angle – the aerial view of the dinner plate, the shot of a leaping horse from under the belly – like falling from a governess’s hatpin, reminds us to pay attention. A slow sequence of women climbing stairs, frequent wide shots showing a landscape that is unusually symmetrical: these devices are treated with the same care as they help to depict the world.
All of this is set against bizarre anaerobic music: now quite standard, but still stunned by the steady boy who starts playing “Help Me Make It Through the Night” in Eucalyptus. Corsage A period film that tells a story as well as explores the nature and meaning of period films. It is clever, somewhat instructive, as rigorous in its intentions as it is tempting to carry out, and as such – dare I say that? – Very, very Austrian. Which totally works for me.
The Empress was, in fact, assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1898, 20 years after the film was set. Given the character’s penchant for dangerous sports and constant starvation, not to mention his occasional weak grasp on intelligence, he is surprised to learn that he lived another two decades of this life. Corsage Gives her a different outcome, but I suspect Krutzer is not so interested in Elizabeth’s life because she is drilling through the levels of privilege and despair, misery and merciful high spirits, narcissism and idealism to show what happens to women – not just Empress Elizabeth, but Any woman – born into a life that gives everything and nothing.
When we see Elizabeth taking her reluctant, embarrassed daughter around a psychiatric hospital ward, holding the hands of patients who tell her how beautiful she is, may remind us of a more recent royal personality. Kreutzer, however, makes no such general comparison. His interest is not in the Queen of Hearts, but in matters of the mind.