Vicky Krieps on Enjoying the Tragic Austrian Empress Murdered by Anarchists
Within the new movie Corsage, Phantom Thread star Vicky Krieps takes on the function of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, a “girl trapped inside a picture of herself”
On 9 September 1898, Empress Elisabeth of Austria wrote in her diary of her want “for my soul to flee to heaven by means of a tiny gap in my coronary heart”. The following day she was lifeless, murdered on the shores of Lake Geneva by an Italian anarchist. Elisabeth’s coronary heart had been punctured by a four-inch needle file, her life extended a number of agonising minutes by the corset she was sporting.
It’s a feat of escapology Vicky Krieps appears to breed – in spirit if not in letter – with Corsage, Marie Kreutzer’s unhappy and scathingly humorous tackle a “girl trapped inside a picture of herself”. No prizes for guessing which pores and skin Krieps is seeking to shed. In 2017, the Luxembourg native burst onto the worldwide movie scene with Phantom Thread, holding the whip-hand over the good Daniel Day Lewis in a fucked-up romance for the ages. It was an earth-shatteringly good efficiency which Krieps has confessed left her feeling “fully misplaced” for a time afterwards. However this 12 months she has begun to emerge from the movie’s shadow to remind us of the expertise that moved display screen legend Liv Ullmann to gush: “I’d wish to say that’s the sort of actress I discover unimaginable.” First there was Bergman Island, Mia Hansen-Love’s teasingly meta story of a pair of filmmakers on a writers’ retreat. Subsequent, British audiences can see her carry out in Emily Atef’s acclaimed end-of-life drama Extra Than Ever, out in January, and Corsage, for which she received greatest actress within the Un Sure Regard strand at Cannes again in Could.
Corsage is directed by Austrian auteur Marie Kreutzer, however the thought to make it was Krieps’ personal. Elisabeth was the Princess Diana of her day, a tragic determine immortalised on display screen within the so-called ‘Sissi’ movies – sudsy, old-school romantic epics that made a giant star of Romy Schneider within the Nineteen Fifties. Krieps had seen the flicks spherical at a neighbour’s home in Luxembourg as a baby, and was cautious of the “too-perfect princess picture”; Schneider, for her half, spent the remainder of her profession attempting to stay down the function, which she mentioned had caught to her “like oatmeal”. “Romy was trapped the identical manner Elisabeth was,” says Krieps. “All her life she was introduced again to the picture of the princess. In Germany they by no means forgave her when she went to France and did all these controversial issues; they’d name her a whore and issues like that. For me she is without doubt one of the biggest actresses, however she was by no means actually allowed to interrupt free.”
Later, on the age of 15, Krieps picked up a replica of the empress’s biography, and was capable of discern a darkness notably absent from the big-screen retelling of her story. “I might really feel one thing within the ebook, a melancholy or a darkness, of a lady trapped inside a picture of herself, and that stayed with me,” says Krieps, who advised to Kreutzer they collaborate on a biopic whereas the pair had been engaged on We Used to Be Cool, launched in 2016. Kreutzer was unimpressed – “in Austria Elisabeth’s picture remains to be very merchandised; I believe for Marie the thought felt kitsch and superficial” – and nothing extra was mentioned till two years later, when a script got here by means of Krieps’ letterbox with a postcard connected: “Effectively, Vicky – I suppose you had been proper!”
Kreutzer’s movie opens in Vienna, on the eve of Elisabeth’s fortieth birthday. The empress is depressed, sick of the pomp and toadying remarks that take up her time, and longs to vanish from a task that requires her solely to be seen. More and more at odds together with her husband, the Archduke Ferdinand, she worries that her youngsters are rising as much as resent her, groomed as foot troopers for the patriarchy it’s her job to perpetuate. And but, Krieps’ tackle the character is much from the proto-feminist determine you would possibly count on from the sort of revisionist romp Corsage guarantees. (In a single promotional poster, she glares out from what appears like a mocked-up Vogue journal cowl, flipping the chook at viewers.) She is nobody’s thought of a ‘feminist ally’ to her courtly retinue, forbidding her closest confidante to marry as a result of “you’re the one one who understands me as I’m”. She can also be monstrously obsessed together with her personal picture, therefore the ‘corsage’ of the title – Elisabeth was well-known for sporting painfully tight corsets to keep up her tiny waist. And but, even right here we really feel sorry for her, as her picture is the one factor she is allowed a point of management over.
“It’s so stunning you say that as a result of after we had been making the film they didn’t wish to finance it as a result of they mentioned the character is just not likeable sufficient,” says Krieps, who winces on the thought of Elisabeth as a nineteenth century feminist, and has a pure European’s disregard for ‘girlboss’ caricaturing. “The best way I acted [the role] was actually the cherry on prime; I bear in mind doing so, pondering that is by no means going to work, however on the similar time secretly believing within the viewers and that it will work. So in case you say you’re feeling for her it’s unimaginable, as a result of I don’t offer you any clarification as to why you’ll really feel for her.”
The reality about Elisabeth, says Krieps, is “extra sophisticated”. Like Diana earlier than her, Elisabeth prefers to combine with the good unwashed than to encompass herself with hangers-on, taking a eager curiosity within the inmates of an early psychiatric hospital for girls. To see her wandering the wards handing out goodies to those ladies who’ve suffered untold hardships is touching but additionally, after all, fully ridiculous, an irony that’s not misplaced on Krieps: “That was a darkish second for me, as a result of after I take a look at [these women] I’m virtually taking pleasure in it – there’s one thing perverted about this. However we discovered this in our analysis; she had a really unusual attraction to those establishments.”
But when Elisabeth’s charitable endeavours will be seen as a product of her narcissism in addition to her compassion, her struggling isn’t any much less actual for it, typically rooted in previous misfortunes which can not at all times be obvious to these unfamiliar together with her story. Corsage alludes to the empress’s first baby, Sophie, who died when she was two, however no point out is fabricated from the truth that her subsequent two kids had been taken from her at start and successfully raised by her mother-in-law, who deemed her incapable – which certainly goes among the manner in direction of explaining the odd distance between Elisabeth and her kids within the movie. “That’s simply how issues had been completed on the time,” says Krieps. “It was ladies oppressing each other, out of the identical harm. Every single day at 5, Elisabeth needed to go and see her mother-in-law, who would anticipate her with a giant ebook the place she had written down every little thing which had been reported to her that she’d completed improper that day, like not sitting upright, sporting the improper garments, utilizing the improper knife … so by the point she was 40 you may think about how damaged she was.”
By a lot of Krieps’ defining roles, there’s a sense of wanderlust, of characters determining a approach to impose themselves on the world they’re confronted with. A lot of her greatest work reckons with feminine company and poisonous masculinity, however isn’t content material with merely pointing the finger; as a substitute, it appears to trace at a manner out of our present #MeToo deadlock, imagining new methods for folks to stay collectively.
In The Chambermaid Lynn (2014) – the function that bagged her the half in Phantom Thread – she performs a resort cleaner who enjoys hiding below visitors’ beds, coaxed out of her monotonous routine by an affair with an S&M intercourse employee. In Phantom Thread, she performs a waitress whisked off to London by a world-famous designer, her sweetly guileless air concealing an iron will that upsets and eventually defangs her lover’s poisonous air of entitlement. (Bergman Island sees her reckon with one other male-genius determine, Ingmar Bergman, whose private cruelty she struggles to unpick from his artwork.) In Corsage there’s a related sense of transgression – of the muse speaking again – in scenes the place the empress calls one lackey an “arsehole” or cuts her hair in protest. “We wished to interrupt that picture [with Corsage],” says Krieps. “However in doing that, I used to be nonetheless abruptly confronted with this concept of the actress – this concept of, ‘Oh, that is the woman from Phantom Thread, take a look at her, what are you sporting in the present day?’, this entire bullshit. So the film in a manner can also be my reply to this, and my private rebel out of that picture.”
Giving readability to those concepts, Kreutzer devises a scene, fully fictitious, the place Elisabeth meets with Louis Le Prince, an unsung pioneer of filmmaking who devised one of many earliest motion-picture cameras. She agrees to be filmed to advertise his invention, and is delighted to study she will be able to say what she likes on digicam because it can not file sound. Lower to a poignant few seconds of movie the place the empress shouts silently into the heavens, a uncommon second of liberation for one among historical past’s many silent ladies. What did she say? “Oh! It was one thing in French like merde, fais chier, putain,” says Krieps with fun. “You recognize, similar to … fuck you … shit … asshole!”
Corsage is in UK cinemas now.