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Vicky Krieps as Empress Sisi

The Rebel Empress is a stunning visual piece from writer-director Marie Kreutzer, featuring a memorable performance by Vicky Krieps as the iconic Austro-Hungarian empress Sisi.

The Rebel Empress is a new cinematic take on Empress Sisi of Austria by Marie Kreutzer. The director and writer adopts a historic, bold and uncommon approach to get to show us the emotional truth of an incredibly famous and beautiful woman, trapped in a loveless marriage and overwhelmed by the obligations of public role. It is similar in approach although more daring in its different representations to Sofia Coppola’s ‘María Antonieta’ or Pablo Larraín’s ‘Spencer’although the key difference is that in both films the central women were portrayed as passive victims, while Vicky Krieps’ Sisi is the architect of her own liberation. The film is visually spectacular, but surprisingly cold to the touch in terms of the script, as everything feels too orchestrated and parsimonious.

The Rebel Empress Christmas 1877 begins in Vienna, when Empress Sisi celebrates her 40th birthday and there is no sign of happiness around her. She is constantly judged by her own children and lives submissive to her decaying beauty over time. Suffocated by rules, and with a voracious appetite for knowledge and life, Elisabeth of Austria increasingly rebels against impositions, in search of the thrill of youth.

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Anachrony as a resource

The Rebel Empress
Adso Films

Every time that The Rebel Empress seems to be settling into an atmospheric period piece, Kreutzer delivers a fun and jarring reminder of the modern world using anachrony as a resourceas if Elisabeth was stepping out of her assigned role, traveling back in time to the present day and thus showing us how the empress shares with the viewer a more modern and less established spirit in her time. From the use of current pieces of music to the maintenance of some of the castles and palaces in their current dilapidated state, or even the appearance of various anachronistic objects such as telephones or tractors, the director continually reminds us that Sisi seems to be ahead of her time.

He weighs all the concerns of Sisi a The Rebel Empress, we don’t see a particularly convoluted plot. The action follows Elisabeth as she travels from one castle to another, visits relatives and tries to find a worthwhile occupation. Several regular subtitles place us in the time and place of the action, but although this resource is generally used in films where this action is spread over several years and places, in The Rebel Empress the date is almost always in 1878 and the place is almost always Vienna. Through this, Kreutzer is trying to tell us that the life of a 19th century empress was terribly boring. And to prove his word, he takes us through the small steps of Sisi’s life, almost minute by minute, whether it’s a boring conversation at the table, a superficial and unsatisfying interaction with her husband, or long moments of pure isolation . All of this allows the viewer to share first hand their tedious suffering.

In the latent and provoked boredom, The Rebel Empress it is beautifully photographed and very well acted. Vicky Krieps (‘The invisible thread’) gives us a wonderful performance showing us a Sisi who never seems like a victim, even when she is. She shows us a spiky woman, rebellious and wild, to the point of neglecting her duties as empress, reserved in public, cheeky and capricious when with friends and overwhelmed by melancholy when alone. It helps that Kreutzer chooses not to show us the true excesses of the real Sisi, as she is a much less extreme, less shameful and more feminist Sisi, a woman with a profile more adapted to our times.

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I’m missing something

The Rebel Empress
Adso Films

The Rebel Empress is a deeply sympathetic portrait of Elisabeth of Austria, enhanced by Krieps’ charming performance. Kreutzer gives enough to allow that any viewer can feel identified with the empressbut the problem that drags the film itself is that it does not focus on any particular element of Sisi’s lifebut rather in the accumulation of several in episodic format, without delving completely further and amounting to little more than that, an overview. The film does a wonderful job of presenting a woman out of her time, but has little else to offer.

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