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Feminist Themes Shine in Historical Setting

MOVIE REVIEW
Sisi & I

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Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Year Released: 2023, 2024
Runtime: 2h 12m
Director(s): Frauke Finsterwalder
Writer(s): Frauke Finsterwalder, Christian Kracht
Cast: Susanne Wolff, Sandra Hüller, Tom Rhys Harries, Johanna Wokalek, Angela Winkler, Stefan Kurt
Language: German, English, French with English subtitles
Where To Watch: opening in select theaters July 12, 2024


RAVING REVIEW: SISI & I transports us to the lush landscapes of Greece, where Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary, known as Sisi (Susanne Wolff,) finds solace away from her royal obligations. In this all-female commune, Sisi crafts a world where she reigns supreme over her leisure and choices, unburdened by the strictures of the Austrian-Hungarian court. This period piece explores the empress's later years, providing a captivating glimpse into a less examined period of her life.


Countess Irma Sztáray (Sandra Hüller), a new addition to Sisi's secluded haven, is instantly drawn to the empress’s vibrant and forward-thinking spirit. However, the peace of their retreat is soon pierced by the outside world's demands, bonding the women in a deep and intricate relationship. Their story unfolds under the attentive direction of Frauke Finsterwalder, who, along with her husband and co-writer, Christian Kracht, steers the narrative away from familiar historical retellings to focus on the personal dynamics at play.

The plot expands as the film delves into the demanding realities Irma faces upon assuming her new role, succeeding Countess Festetics (Johanna Wokalek.) Tasked with demonstrating her worth in the challenging environment of Corfu, a Greek island, Irma transitions from a mere subordinate to a vital companion to Sisi, sharing in the empress’s unpredictable escapades. Their interactions highlight the psychological complexities of their relationship, marked by Sisi’s manipulative streak and the emotional whirlwind that follows.

The film’s aesthetic, from its detailed costumes to the sweeping vistas, is a feast for the eyes, effectively transporting viewers to the era. More than just visually stunning, SISI & I is anchored by robust performances from the leads. Hüller, as Irma, delivers a compelling portrayal of resilience, while Wolff’s Empress Sisi dominates the screen with her commanding presence.

Beyond its compelling narrative and strong performances, SISI & I is notable for its technical mastery, particularly in cinematography and music composition. The film's cinematographer captures the essence of the Greek landscapes and the intimate spaces of Sisi's refuge with a keen eye for the world that engulfs our characters, creating enchanting and foreboding visuals mirroring the complex moods of the narrative. Meanwhile, the score, comprised entirely of female vocalists, not only underscores the feminist undertones of the film but also enhances the emotional depth of each scene. This selection of music and meticulous camera work culminates in a film that is a visual delight and a resonant, auditory experience, making the historical journey of Empress Sisi and Countess Irma not just seen but felt.

Finsterwalder integrates a contemporary feminist perspective into this historical drama, challenging the often romanticized narratives surrounding Sisi’s life. The soundtrack's inclusion of the vocal tracks on the soundtrack lends a modern touch that complements the film’s critique of historical and gender norms.

Despite some narrative pacing issues, SISI & I stands out for its innovative narrative and strong performances. It is a must-watch for those interested in a modern twist on historical dramas. The film entertains and provokes thought about the constraints of societal roles and personal freedom. The film explores themes such as power, identity, and autonomy through the lens of Irma's experiences, examining the character’s internal struggles and growth.

SISI & I offers a fresh and engaging perspective on the life of one of history’s most intriguing figures. Its blend of historical depth and contemporary insight ensures that it transcends the typical boundaries of the biopic genre. Finsterwalder’s vision enriches the cinematic landscape with a historically resonant and strikingly relevant story.

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[photo courtesy of FILM MOVEMENT]

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Chris Jones
Entertainment Editor

Chris Jones is the Mail Entertainment Editor covering Movies and Television topics. He is from Washington, Illinois, and is the owner, writer, and editor of Overly Honest Reviews.