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Vicky Krieps Should Be in the Cannes Competition for Best Actress

She stars in Un Certain Regard title “Corsage,” an irreverently feminist drama that should have been in the official competition.

“Corsage”

Cannes

Vicky Krieps should be up for Best Actress at Cannes this year. But as usual, festival programmers have slotted one of the best films at Cannes, Marie Kreutzer’s irreverently feminist Austrian royal drama “Corsage,” in Un Certain Regard. (Krieps is also nabbing raves for her second Un Certain Regard movie, German filmmaker Emily Atef’s relationship drama “More Than Ever.”)

Krieps’ time will come. Ever since she broke out in 2017 opposite Daniel Day Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” the Luxembourg actress has been making up for lost time, shooting one role after another, with no regard for making smart career choices, she told me at Cannes. “My choice always comes from my heart, which is why it doesn’t seem like a career choice, ever.”

Mia Hansen-Love’s “Bergman Island,” starring Krieps and Tim Roth as a fractious married couple, made a small arthouse splash last year after debuting at Cannes, while Mathieu Amalric’s Cannes title “Hold Me Tight” is finally coming out in North America this fall. Krieps enjoyed her role in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old” almost as an experiment in making a Hollywood film.

But playing rebellious Empress Elisabeth (“Sissi”) of Austria-Hungary back in 1877 was a feat. Seven years ago, Austrian director Kreutzer first cast Berlin-based Krieps, who wasn’t working much at the time, because she needed the gravitas of a mother for “We Used to Be Cool.” On their second go-round the two built on a bond of trust as they approached this revisionist treatment of the infamously restless Sissi, who at 40 is bucking the customs of the time as she tries to escape her gilded royal cage. (It wasn’t the first or last time a royal was out of sync with palace rule; see “Spencer.”) All Sissi’s husband Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister) wants is for her to responsibly perform her royal duties. On the one hand she struggles to keep the love of her public, dieting and cinching tight her corsets; on the other, she runs away to Bavaria and England and flirts with younger men.

"Bergman Island"

“Bergman Island”

Telerama

Krieps and Kreutzer collaborated closely on creating Sissi, who Krieps enjoyed playing — except for the painfully tight corset. “It was something we underestimated,” she said. “And [Kreutzer] has apologized to me several times because I was really suffering and it’s not true that actors say that it helps your performance. It’s bullshit. It’s torture. It’s torture! For many weeks, it was tight and I couldn’t breathe properly. Because it ties down your solar plexus, where you feel, laugh, and cry. You don’t have the performance at all because you’re stuck. It makes everything harder.”

But finding different ways for Sissi to act out was great fun. “It was my turn to get to be the scallywag I am,” Krieps said, “as a woman who is suffering more than anything I could imagine from this cage that you’re put in if you are like a public image, and people talk of you as a woman in your beauty.”

In 1955, French actress Romy Schneider played the same role in “Sissi.” “She herself too was also a victim who also wanted to be seen for her work and not for her beauty,” said Krieps. “So both of the women suffered and were broken from the same thing. So that was one way of me giving them something they couldn’t have.”

Kreutzer gave Krieps a great deal of freedom, as did Anderson. “Both of them trusted me in my artistic choice,” she said, “so I felt free like on ‘Phantom Thread,’ things just happened because I knew I was allowed to go beyond what is written.” In “Corsage,” Sissi gets so frustrated in one scene that she has no words. “And so I just opened the window and I stepped out,” siad Krieps. “I was not falling. But this then became part of the movie. [Kreutzer] gave me a playground.”

The director took some liberties with history.  “I made many revisions to Empress Elisabeth’s real story, but most are smaller details,” Kreutzer wrote me in an email. “The most significant difference is in the ending to her story. Mostly I’m filling in what could have happened in between certain known dates in that one year of her life that I depicted in the film — and I wanted to give her the power to make her own decision about the end of her life.”

“Corsage”

IFC Films

The actress didn’t have much time to prepare for a demanding role, from adding Hungarian to her other languages to fencing. “They were very lucky,” she said, “because for some reason I’m very fast in adapting physically to things. Otherwise one month and a half wouldn’t have been enough. So I had to learn the fencing from scratch, and horseback riding. I knew that, but not sidesaddle. So how do you steer your horse now with one leg? I had a timetable.”

Sissy was a pleasure for Krieps because she’s nothing if not flawed: She can be narcissistic, childish, selfish, vain, and petty. “She’s a woman who is not just nice and beautiful and pretty,” she said. “No! And just to allow myself to be that and to show this face of myself, too. I’m tired of being kind all the time, I’m tired of being pretty. Boring! So it was really, Marie and I were like two naughty girls. It was like, ‘Now what are we going to do next?'”

That included updating the character to be more athletic, tomboyish, and anachronistic (along with the music played in court). In one scene, Krieps hid a sticky false mustache on her sleeve and swept it onto her lip as a surprise for the director.

“There are many ways where the both of us express ourselves as women of our times, you know? Her relationship with her husband is so nuanced and so close to relationships we all have. I broke out of a relationship with kids, which I was supposed to endure, which our society tells us, you know, like: ‘Who are you to leave your children and your man when this is what you’re supposed to do?’ Well, because I don’t love that person. I’m not happy. That’s why.”

Pandemic delays mean many of Krieps’ films are coming out at once. Among them are Barry Levinson’s recent HBO drama “Survivor” (April 27). She also takes on another royal, Queen Anne, in the upcoming big-budget French adventure “The Three Musketeers.” (She was willing to suffer corsets if it was only for 10 days.) On “Colonia,” she had to swim with diving equipment when she was eight months pregnant.

“I don’t know how I did it,” she said. “I don’t understand myself. How did you do that? I don’t know where I have this energy from.”

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