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Turning an Empress’ Emotional Collapse Into a Punk Rock Statement


By Roger Costa


Sandra Huller became a rocket star overnight. Her stardom happened as quick as speedlight. 2023 was her golden, most notorious year, taking lead roles in three major productions. Both “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Zone of Interest” were worldwide hits and Best Picture Oscar nominees; The third is this hidden gem, a sophisticated and delectable dark comedy directed by Frauke Finsterwalder, who was named Best Director at the Bavarian Film Award and nominated for the coveted Berlin’s Teddy Award.

Huller graces the audience with another gripping, intriguing character, crafting her art with her usual substancial depth and complexity. She devours every frame and line of this feminist saga, delivering a relatable and unforgettable Countess in enthusiastic comedic tones. A light, gorgeously produced and well intentioned historical piece, the film serves as a fitting stage for her unmeasurable talent, a pleasant gift for her fans to try some of her cynicism and irreverence.

She is funny and touching as a clueless Countess who is sent to look after the rebellious and troublesome Empress Elisabeth of Austria, aka Sisi, during her stay in Greece. After enduring some hard tasks and assignments to prove her ability, loyalty and skills, she becomes extremely fond of the Empress to the point of sacrificing her life’s future in order to perform her job and follow the royalty on her risky adventures.

Recently, audiences have seen a surge on the Empress’ exploration, which makes her one of the most compelling historical figures of our era. Sisi was the central figure in the classic Romy Schneider-starred romantic trilogy “Sissi” and in the bold take “Corsage” with Vicky Krieps doing the honors as an uneasy Empress.

Though the characteristics of melancholy, rebellion, resistance and a constant sense of fighting the system, societal norms and gender morals remain here firmly expressed through the Empress’ experiences, director Finsterwalder chooses to tell the story through the housemaid’s perspective, highlighting the comedic fuel of the narrative. Punctuated by an upbeat female punk rock soundtrack reflecting the feminine universe going against patriarchal regime, and at the same time, battling for their own emotional balance and equality, Finsterwalder conceives a deeply affecting and engaging portrait of royalty, bohemia, artistic liberation and sexual awakening. It is seen through a comic vein, but profoundly observational in its delicacy: the jealousy, unrequited love, and abuse that come along the way, as the friendship intensifies and affects them all.

The show here belongs to Huller, but the entire cast delivers convincing, emotionally-charged and hilarious take on aristrocacy: most notably, the extraordinary Susanne Wolf who excels as the Empress, bringing mystery, ambiguity and tension to her hypnotizing persona.

The technical qualities of the film also help its accomplishment: the gorgeous cinematography capturing sensual interiors and lush landscapes, the impressive costumes and art direction, and the potent music. Everything contributes to the success of this production, making it a refined, seductive, entertaining and surprisingly crowd-pleaser.

(Film Movement. Opens Friday, July 12 at Quad Cinema)

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