Corsage/The Wonder

By Aaron Isenstein

Two Brilliant Tales of the Female Condition Perfected by Their Leads

There is no shortage of depression films, but Vicky Krieps’ Corsage is simply one of the best and most intimate to tackle this subject. While it is a biopic in a sense, as it tells the story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (also known as Sisi), director Marie Kreutzer blends the past and the present to tell a fictional year in her life.

The first thing one notices about “Corsage” is the scale of the visuals. Monika Buttinger’s costumes are absolutely to die for and help create a lavish environment. Both Buttinger and the hair/makeup designers Maike Heinlein and Helene Lang are challenged with recreating the iconic image of Sisi with her lush hairstyles and regal gowns. However, they do an incredible job and help make an already gorgeous film look nothing less than stunning. Speaking of which, the whole movie is drowned in muted pinks, purples, blues, and greens. While it never feels outright dark or dreary, the color palette compliments the themes of power and loneliness presented.

What truly elevates Corsage, however, is how simply phenomenal Vicky Krieps is as the lead. She’s devastatingly subtle and interacts with her world with such grace. Even the most miniscule scenes (like Sisi taking a bath) are instilled with this heart-rending pain from Krieps, who truly gives a performance for the ages. The other standout scenes are when Sisi visits a mental hospital. It is here she confronts her power, as the women who are being abused and miserable within the hospital are there because of her actions (and inaction). The expression on Krieps’ face while watching a woman be tortured for adultery is unforgettable.

Sisi is also portrayed very relatably and treated as a normal human, rather than as the misunderstood tragic enigma trope often associated with unhappy characters. She struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts, and body image issues. She doesn’t want to admit her struggles are real, but she does want a break. While female suffering has been portrayed in films for decades, Corsage excels in showcasing its protagonist’s struggles without glorifying them. It takes an iconic woman from the 1870s and instead of detailing every regal aspect of her reign, it portrays how she copes with aging and no longer being seen as beautiful. She goes through normal problems that are not exclusive to the time period. Really, anyone could relate to Sisi.

On the other hand, Sebastian Leilo’s The Wonder is dark in color and tone. Florence Pugh portrays an English nurse named Lib in 1860s Ireland. Lib is tasked to observe and help Anna, a young girl (played by newcomer Kila Lord Cassidy) who has reportedly gone for months without eating. Unlike Corsage, there is no lavishness here. Similarly to the world around her, Lib is grim and depressed, with neither having any light or hope around them.

Despite its bleak nature, The Wonder is quite beautiful. The Irish Midlands are a stunning backdrop for any film, and the lighting design is nothing short of haunting. The mystery elements are also incredibly compelling and make it incredibly easy to get sucked into the story. As Lib and Anna’s lives progress, the images get more miserable and dry. One of the most notable instances of this is Lib’s blue dress: as her life with Anna gets more and more hopeless, her already raggedy gown becomes dirty and torn. When the catastrophic ending arrives, Lib appears as disparaged as she feels. She’s disheveled, bruised, and ruined. This all provides an exceptional contrast for the final scene that makes it all the more shocking.

The performances from Kila Lord Cassidy and Florence Pugh are also astonishing. Despite being merely 13 years old, Cassidy has several moments when her acting is on par (and occasionally even better) than Pugh’s. The two play off each other incredibly well and create a fascinating dynamic. While Lib is a woman grieving the loss of her child, Anna is a child dying. This is best exemplified in one of the most haunting scenes in the film: when Lib attempts to feed Anna, Cassidy’s agony and the pain in Pugh’s face are both simply unbelievable.

The Wonder doesn’t suffer from many faults. Sometimes its tone is a bit too much, and there are a few times the script doesn’t work. But really, the main issue is the odd decision to begin and end the film on a soundstage with narration. Right away, the viewer is told about what they are watching and the backstory from the perspective of a filming lot. It doesn’t last for long, but it severely confuses the viewer at the beginning and takes them out of the story at the end.

Where “Corsage” and “The Wonder” connect are their nuanced portrayals of melancholic women. Lib and Sisi are both coming to terms with their own personal tragedies and losses, and are both forced to move on. Sisi is told to stay strong as a woman in power, while Lib has to take care of Anna before she can deal with her own problems. Krieps and Pugh are also absolute powerhouses that absolutely command the screen they are on.

As melancholic period dramas, “The Wonder” and “Corsage” are exceptional. But as tales of the female condition, these two films are both perfect.

Corsage: 9/10

The Wonder: 8.5/10