REBEKAH DAVIES reviews a sumptuous and alarming contemplation of human nature and society screening at the NZ International Film Festival.
Burgeoning new talent, Vicky Krieps, continues her run of excellent roles and films, with her turn as Queen Elizabeth of Austria in Corsage, an eerily tranquil and disarming depiction of a woman unmoored, heading unbounded in the throes of outrageous privilege towards self-immolation.
Gorgeous cinematography, and a gentle rendering of the story aided by nuanced performances, quickly lulled me into a reverie. However, I sensed the current of this watery body from the onset. And it was unsettling.
As the wife of the King, Elizabeth has little to do but shift around various grand residences, where she rides horses, embarks on aimless flirtations, and sinks further and further into neuroses. Her own children seem sufficiently cared for to the point where her presence is but a curious, and oftentimes, vexing apparition. Her husband, meanwhile, has his own dalliances and freely stokes the fires of her mushrooming ennui with his inability to be romantically, or physically, consistent. He chastises her for not being sufficiently happy enough to be a Queen; Elizabeth begins to decline in such a dreamy and tragic way it becomes excruciating to watch.
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In response to her query ’…do you think I’m beautiful…?’ a lover replies with ‘…you’re the sun shining, the fucking sun…’ as he grasps her listless head in his hands. But it’s too late. Elizabeth is soon treated by a negligent and misguided doctor who cures one dilemma and instigates another. The Queen is diagnosed, in essence, with ‘hysteria’, an illness that has apparently gripped women for the greater part of modern history, a malady that encourages subjugation: be it under the auspices of medicine or practitioner.
This film could be viewed as a kind of existential take on women of a certain class. I find something more orphic and urgent in the midst of banquets and carriage rides. Elizabeth is so utterly vanquished by her assumed role as Queen, wife, and mother that virtually nothing else of her exists. Is this a study in gender politics or of people struggling in prescriptive societal roles?
The original soundtrack – by French musician Camille Dalmais – adds a subtle, yet vital dimension to the film also, impossible to overlook. When the Queen nods off at an outdoor soirée while listening to a rendition of ‘As Tears Go By’ (popularised by Marianne Faithful) on harp, those who know will smirk or cringe, depending on their disposition.
Corsage isn’t easy viewing; a sumptuous and alarming contemplation of human nature and society, perhaps.
* Check the NZIFF website for screening times around NZ.