Marie Kreutzer, born in Graz, is one of Austria’s most important and established filmmakers. After graduating from the AHS Modellschule, an alternative school with an artistic focus, she began her studies at the Film Academy Vienna in the field of Screenwriting and Dramaturgy with Walter Wippersberg and graduated with distinction. Afterwards, she worked as a script supervisor and in continuity in cinema and TV productions and made a variety of award-winning short feature films, which were shown at numerous film festivals.
At this year’s European Film Awards, Tara Karajica talks to Marie Kreutzer about her latest film, “Corsage,” about the Empress Elisabeth of Austria as she turns forty. In her representative role at the side of her husband Emperor Franz Joseph I, she is not allowed to voice an opinion, and instead must forever remain the young and beautiful empress. In order to live up to this expectation, she adheres to a rigorous regimen of fasting, exercising, hairdressing and daily measurements of her waist. But Elisabeth has a hunger for knowledge and zest for life, increasingly rebels against the hyperbolized image of herself, and is no longer willing to live life constrained by a courtly corset. The film premiered in the Un Certain Regard Competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival before having a very successful run on the film festival circuit, and being nominated for European Film, European Director, European Actress – that was awarded to Vicky Krieps – and shortlisted for Best International Feature Film at the upcoming Academy Awards.
What made you want to become a filmmaker?
Marie Kreutzer: I always wanted to be a writer, actually. And, I always wrote stories – also, when I was not even really able to write at five years old. I still have a book from when I was already trying to write stories when I was five years old. But I also drew and painted a lot and I think that, in the end, both kind of came together – the fact that I loved telling stories and I loved using language and words to describe something. And, I’m always curious about relationships between people and this together with my love for everything visual, I think it just came naturally. But I really tried to become a writer and ended up studying screenwriting, because that was the only place where I could study something with actual writing. And then, I happened to make a short film as a director and one thing led to another, but it was not my dream to become a director. It just kind of happened.
How did you get on board Corsage? What attracted you to this story?
M.K.: I really have to thank and credit Vicky Krieps because it was her idea to make this film. We made a film together before and we wanted to work together again and she asked me if I wanted to do a film about Sisi with her. And, I didn’t really want that in the first place because I grew up in Austria where Sissi is everywhere. She’s on every souvenir. If it’s not Mozart, it’s her. And, she was not cool or interesting to me. It was just a very short conversation with Vicky, but it just stayed with me. And, at some point, I read a biography and went to the museums and just tried to find out a little more about her to see if there was something in the material that would interest me enough. And, I focused so much on her in her thirties and forties because I didn’t know much about that time and because that was around my age and I found an interest in what it was like to be an Empress at forty years old, when everything you are supposed to be is beautiful. And, at that time, when you were forty, you were basically old. So, I found it a very good story of a woman who doesn’t want to meet expectations anymore and doesn’t want to please everyone anymore because I think that’s timeless and we still have to deal with that as women and we always have to please in order to be loved. So, that was really what made me want to tell this story.
Corsage is a sort of irreverent spin on biopics and historical drama. Can you talk about your take on this?
M.K.: I don’t like biopics so much because it’s just like: and then, and then, and then, and then this happened… And, it’s not really a story very often or it’s just trying to do something the correct way and, as a film viewer, I’m never drawn to these films and to classic period films. Very often, I find them a little boring or just trying to do everything right. And so, if Vicky hadn’t asked me, I wouldn’t have had the idea of making a period film in the first place because I think there are enough stories in our life today. But then, it was clear that it would be different and that I had to find a different take. I wanted to focus on a certain time in her life – a very short period. When I had all the material and did a lot of research, I just tried to use part of the facts and part of History and I just made it into a story and I also had to use elements that were not from that period. So, I already started playing with History when I was writing it and that then went on when we started talking about the look of the film, the style, the production design… We tried not to make the perfect period film because that’s one thing you cannot really do with a European budget anyway. And then, we were also not interested in that; we wanted to have a different look.
Can you talk about historical accuracy, and the importance of it, or lack of therefore in your story as well as the relationship between History and film in Corsage?
M.K.: When it comes to accuracy, there are so many beautiful quotes about filmmaking and that film is never the truth. Also, a documentary is not the truth; it’s one interpretation of reality. What were maybe one or two things I noticed first when reading so many biographies about her is that the writing of History is also interpretation. It’s never just the facts. There’s really one single book I have about her life, which is so thin, which only has the facts and I think it’s a very good book because it’s really only the facts and then you realize that everything in-between that makes the books bigger is interpretation. It’s just how you put it together. And, I’m not judging it. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it’s also storytelling in a way. You want to make these facts into a story. And so, I felt quite free to do that my way on film, and just give my own interpretation. Because that’s what every film does, but also what every biography does.
In a way, you’re also making Sissi a feminist icon in this precise (woke) moment in History. You’re going back in time, and revisioning it to rewrite the present. Would you agree with that assumption?
M.K.: Yes, I think I think she was a feminist. First, I don’t think she was a feminist in the classic meaning of the word. She wasn’t interested in women’s rights, but in what she cared for for herself. And, that was feminist in itself because she, at some point, put herself first. And, that was very rebellious because it was her purpose to serve the Empire and the Emperor, her husband, but she, at some point, decided she wouldn’t do it anymore. So, that was really feminist, I think, and I wanted to highlight that.
What are your next projects?
M.K.: I don’t know. I haven’t made the decision yet because I’m so busy with Corsage, which was, of course, unexpected. I’m traveling all the time. I’m doing interviews everyday and I just decided to wait because to come up with something new, I need space. I need time. I need a quiet space. I can rewrite a script anywhere, but I cannot come up with something new everywhere. I have ideas everyday and there are several ideas on the table, but I don’t know what I’m going to do next yet – maybe something really small.
Photo credits: European Film Academy.
This interview was conducted at the 2022 European Film Awards in Reykjavik, Iceland.