When Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as Sisi, is greeted by friends in England in the film “Corsage” while fleeing the demands of the Viennese court, someone introduces himself as “Spencer” – and one involuntarily thinks of the other big one Fugitive from the rigidity of royal protocol, Lady Diana Spencer.
“We thought of that too,” says Sisi actress Vicky Krieps, and the connection is very simple: Sisi’s platonic lover in England was called Bay Middleton, was her riding instructor and stable master of the 5th Earl of Spencer; Lady Di was the daughter of the 8th Earl of Spencer. It’s all a big bubble, this European nobility.
Vicky Krieps takes up the analogy immediately: “Two women who do not fit into their environment, representative of the women of today, because they combine something that is often separated: on the one hand the mother and the saint, on the other hand the beauty and the object of the Desire. Both have the cheek to want to be both. And even more.”
In ten years, Krieps has made a name for itself from women who want more. She began as “Elly Beinhorn”, the historical celebrity who asserted herself in the male domain of pilots and was the first to circumnavigate the world in a solo flight in 1932. Then came Lynn, the Maid, who lies under strangers’ beds to get an idea of what their future life might be like.
Lynn, in turn, led to Alma because director Paul Thomas Anderson happened to see the maid film on iTunes—it was only there for a week! – when he was looking for a competitor for Daniel Day-Lewis in his next film “The Silk Thread”: Alma, a seemingly fragile waitress who becomes the muse of the dominant fashion designer Reynolds, but does not bow to his wishes, demands respect from him and an erotic game of power balance begins with him.
Your characters are not ambassadors. No emancipations carrying their plans to change the world in front of them. No feminists making a career out of it. They are individual stories of individual experiences, of small victories and big defeats. Krieps was in Cannes this year with two films, in addition to Marie Kreutzer’s “Corsage” and Emily Atef’s “More than Ever”, in which a terminally ill woman faces death for the first time follows her instincts, although her family does not understand this. She has just finished Ingeborg Bachmann’s biopic.
Krieps’ grandfather was sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis for distributing Resistance leaflets; as Minister of Justice after the war, he was instrumental in the abolition of the death penalty in Luxembourg. He took his granddaughter to demonstrations and sit-ins. In a short speech at the presentation of the Abitur diploma, Vicky thanked her school: “You taught me how to learn by heart, how to copy and keep my mouth shut.” In the last semester of her acting studies in Zurich, she did not memorize one, as required monologue, but wrote his own play and performed it.
And then, so to speak, the jump from a supporting role in the television “Mordkommission Berlin 1” on the set with Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the greatest auteur filmmakers, and with Daniel Day-Lewis, the three-time Oscar winner, who only had one more for Anderson only came out of retirement.
Now Krieps’ characters have beauty, vulnerability, composure – and, in any case, a certain defiance. She also has a certain stubbornness when it comes to make-up. She does not like it. She finds it unnecessary. “I always discuss it,” she says. She also discussed it with Paul Thomas Anderson, she, then Miss Nobody. “In ‘The Thread’ I partially succeeded for the first time: Until Alma comes to Reynolds’ house, she doesn’t make up. What startled me was realizing how special it seemed to be without make-up. ‘Let’s take the no-make-up make-up’ I often hear. ‘No, no make-up’ I always reply. It doesn’t want to get into their heads.”
In “Corsage” she asserted herself once again, she didn’t wear make-up for the whole film. After that she played Anna of Austria in a new version of the “Three Musketeers” – another Habsburg woman – one of her forays into commercial cinema: “I’m an incredibly curious person.”
During filming, a makeup artist started straightening her hair completely: “The director told me it had to be ‘beauty’. What is ‘beauty’? Nobody knows exactly what that is supposed to be. No frizzy hair, lots of make-up, I want to have explained why that should be ‘beauty’.”
The director was fetched. “What is a beautiful woman?” Krieps demanded to know. “You can’t say what beauty is. Besides, you’re a man and I’m a woman. Why is your opinion valid? Also: Is it your opinion at all?” The director noticed that he was running out of arguments and carefully retreated: “Then show me how you imagine it.”
“I then,” says Krieps, “persuaded the make-up artist to make our hair very curly and tousled and put it up. In the end everyone, really everyone, was talking about this hairstyle and the makeup artist bragged about it. After that I researched on the internet and lo and behold: we had exactly the hairstyle of that time.”
It’s still about the condition of the woman, the delusion of wanting to please. “How can it be that even then Elisabeth went through the same thing? Little pictures of her were hand-painted and distributed all over Europe: ‘The most beautiful woman on the continent'”.
“Corsage” is set around Elisabeth’s 40th birthday, and it’s getting harder to keep up the facade. Vicky Krieps, late 30s, shows that there is no way out: you have to feed the monster. “Today it’s the monster Instagram,” says Krieps. “So that it always gives you the confirmation: Yes, I am loved! The more followers I have, the more I have to satisfy them.” Vicky Krieps is also on Instagram, mainly so that nobody pretends to be her there, with a bit of advertising for her films, nothing more.
For Vicky Krieps, Empress Sisi is the first victim of celebrity culture, long before Princess Di: “You become so isolated that you no longer feel. You have an inner fire, you want to express yourself, but you are trapped within yourself. This is how you begin to over-control your own body, not eating, wanting to get away. You’re always floating.” Floating, yes, that’s the term that often comes to mind in Krieps’ films.
There is the moment in “Corsage” when she stops floating. When she takes off the corset, she suddenly gains a different physicality, sits on the floor, and can meet her Franz-Josef tenderly again. Krieps understands Elisabeth only too well: “The corset was a real torture and I wouldn’t do it again. As soon as I put it on I felt a sort of melancholy. I’ve always wanted to smoke, although I’m not a smoker, because you want to feel something. I wore the corset on all shooting days from five in the morning to five in the evening. That was the mistake we made in our thinking: the women of that time put on the corset at twelve o’clock and took it off again at four o’clock. In between they mostly sat on the sofa. It annoys me a bit that it looks so good. I was hoping it would look a little more distorted. Only when I took off the corset could I laugh again.”
After “The Silken Thread” Vicky Krieps was in Hollywood for a few months, attended the parties and read the scripts and met agents who wanted to start planning the life of the newest star right away. To put her in a permanent corset. Krieps once described the difference between Daniel Day-Lewis’ way of working and hers: “Daniel wants to squeeze an orange, but not spill a drop. He wants to find the essence. I, on the other hand, open myself up to everything while playing. I open myself up so much that I empty myself.”
In the interview, she doesn’t do it any differently, to the dismay of all the coaches who train their protégés to say as little as possible with many words. In “The Silken Thread” you have to pay attention to how many different ways Vicky Krieps knows how to say “Yes”, joyfully and willingly, hesitantly and doubtingly. But they are Yes, and they stand for openness in a time that is anxiously securing itself on all sides.
Now we are next curious about her Ingeborg Bachmann. Who is said to have put on heavy make-up.