Corsage                       Marie Kreuzer

Corsage                       Marie Kreuzer

Corsage                       Marie Kreuzer (Euro co-prod; 2022) Vicky Krieps; FlorianTeichmeister

viewed Tyneside Cinema 29th Dec 2022; ticket: £10.25

to die perchance to dream

‘Corsage’s’ opening credits show that the producers of ‘Corsage’ and director Marie Kreuzer made full use of subject Empress Elizabeth of Austria’s peripatetic life style to play a sort of Eurofilm version of ‘Monopoly’. The rules of the Euro production money game are : land on a country square and you can claim production finance from the country’s square on which you’ve landed + plus guaranteed film and TV deals. Seeing the different country ‘squares’ pop up in the credits, I feared the deals might have impinged on the integrity of the film. But the financial strategy worked ok, and the constant change of backgrounds fed into the restless wanderings of Elizabeth.

There have been a number of films recently that exploit female historical characters with the objective of re-purposing them to exemplify current ideas about female identity. Yorgos Lanthropos’ movie ‘The Favourite’ was a study of Queen Anne. ‘The Favourite’ was a conventionally conceived period piece, staying more or less true to its historical grounding but doing a ‘make over job ‘ on Queen Anne whose character outlook and philosophy were aligned so as to be in tune with contemporary mores and values. Nothing new here of course. Hollywood scripts have always fitted out historical characters, Kings and Queens Counts and Countesses etc with transposed contemporary outlooks and attitudes towards characterisation and social relations. Otherwise how would a mass audience identify with them?

Kreuzer’s ‘Corsage’ in its depiction of the ‘life’ of the Empress Elizabeth goes along with Hollywood’s fast and loose attitude to historical characterisation. Kreuzer’s ‘Elizabeth’ is moulded as an exemplar of the consequences of the social constriction of women. ‘Elizabeth’ is an ideatic construct restrained both by her own bodily corset and by the corsetry of social relations. Kreuzer’s take on Elizabeth’s life requires the totalistic voiding of anything irrelevant to her core idea. It’s as if Kreuzer has held Elizabeth upside down by her ankles and shaken out any character or other attributes that are not in alignment with her authorial governing purpose.

In re-visaging Elizabeth’s life Kreuzer gets radical. She also takes the scissors to the date and actual form of death of her protagonist. Elizabeth of Austria died in 1898, aged 61, assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Geneva. But Kreuzer’s ‘ideal feminist’ filmic Elizabeth commits suicide aged 40. In the best cinematic traditions Elizabeth filleted of any inconveniences becomes a suitable medium for message, a message about both contemporary feminism and death.

Kreuzer’s purpose is to demonstrate that Elizabeth’s life came to an end at the age of forty. At this age the pressures both of her position and of status as a woman, with its concomitant imperatives regarding her appearance deportment and manners so impressed themselves upon her that they in effect left her with no future, no life. With a terrible future that she could see all too well, she took her life into her own hands and committed suicide.

‘Corsage’ opens up the cinematic space that permits Kreuzer to fashion ‘Elizabeth’ as a necessary invention. The scenario with its anachronistic interpolations is designed to de-construct any possibility that the film might be interpreted as having any actual historical setting or lay claim to historical authenticity. ‘Corsage’ is designed as a modernist conceit, and the regular intrusion into the picture of anachronistic material serves as continuous reminder to the audience that they are watching a contemporary construct. Much of the music on the sound track is rifled from contemporary pop; in one diegetic musical moment, one of Elizabeth’s courtiers sings the Jagger/ Rchards /Loog-Oldham number: ‘As Tears Go By.’ (originally recorded by Marianne Faithful)  And: innumerable images regularly pop upthat are out of place out of time: a tractor, X-Rays, motion pictures, electric light, thereby giving the audience the wink that any suggestion of historicism in ‘Corsage’ is not to be taken seriously.

What is to be taken seriously is the proposition implied in the metaphorical title, ‘Corsage’: that the strangulating effect caused by women’s internalisation of male/patriarchal judgement of them by their appearance, effectively controling their lives, sentences women to a kind of slow death by asphyxiation. All the oxygen is taken out of the air as when you drown.

In ‘Corsage’ whatever Elizabeth does, her athletic achievements her abilities her lovers her independent attitude count as nothing in comparison to the demands made upon her for: duty, perfect outward presentation, correct behavioural deportment. These she cannot escape, try as she might in her restless agitated movement from place to place.

and…what about the invented death that Kreuzer has so thoughtfully arranged for Elizabeth?

In the final shot we see Elizabeth in silhouette standing at the front end of a steamer. She steps up onto the edge of the prow and jumps serenely overboard into the sea. It feels like an act of nobility. Kreuzer has composed an elegant and beautiful image: Elizabeth’s form plummeting down down down through the air towards the water into death.

When life has reached a point where you understand that it is intolerable and that there is nothing you can do to change this, then you can take the brave and impeccable decision to end your life. As well as making her point about ‘Female Corsage’ my feeling is that Kreuzer is also making a refined observation about suicide. Self inflicted death has a noble and well documented history. To kill oneself is a decision in which the individual takes full control of their own lives, the supreme moment of self determination. This is not to say that suicide is unproblematic. Certainly in relation to people with mental health problems or adolescents. But self inflicted death has long been an area where both the state and religions have attempted to take control of individuals’ life and death, in effect taking ownership of all life and death.  Suicide, for Elizabeth, and for many, is the individual act of reclamation against social religious state claims on being. Suicide is about life; for the individual life and death are interconnected states.

My feeling is that Kreuzer as well as employing Elizabeth as a retro-activated contemporary woman working against implanted patriarchal patterns of behaviour, also poses suicide as a feminist issue. ‘Corsage’ it seems to me takes on suicide as a decision that can be both brave and noble. A action that is at once an act of complete defiance but also in its own way a celebration of the dance of life.

adrin neatrour

Author: Star & Shadow

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