January 30, 2011

MOVIES: Applause (Martin Zandvliet, 2009/US 2010)

The Danish film Applause is a character study of Thea (Paprika Steen), an actress struggling to put her life back together after its collapse. She's been divorced for about 18 months, and hasn't seen her two young sons for most of that time; she's barely managing to stay sober.

We get occasional flashbacks (the only cue that they're flashbacks is that Thea's still drinking) to her life on stage, where she's starring in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf; it's a mark of how badly Thea's lost control of her life that her Martha seems more well adjusted and less ravaged than she does. (These scenes are taken from an actual Copenhagen production of the play in which Steen starred.)

The movie is a showcase for Steen, who is in every scene, and often filmed in extreme, unforgiving closeups. It's a performance entirely without vanity, and Steen dives headlong into Thea's self-destructive, corrosive soul. Dealing with the world without the numbness provided by alcohol is a new experience, and she's not coping well. She snaps at fans and salesclerks, and in the movie's best scene, she has a horribly awkward encounter with a man she's picked up in a bar; you suspect that it's been a long time (if ever) since Thea faced the possibility of sex without being drunk.

The rest of the movie is not up to the level of Steen's performance; the story's a bit thin, and the cinematography is ugly, which serves the point of the story for a while, emphasizing just how bleak Thea's world is, but grows tiresome in the long run. But that performance is a fine one, and while I wouldn't recommend the movie at full theatre price, Steen is reason enough to look for it when it finally gets to DVD.


Ana said...

I just saw this movie on the Chicago Film festival, it's without a doubt a wonderful performance by Paprika Steen. Also, the story keeps you hooked during the entire movie.

Keith said...

Welcome, Ana!

I was less hooked by the story than you were -- seemed a fairly familiar mix of cliches about the self-destructive actor who can't keep her drama-queen impulses from screwing up her life -- but Steen really is marvelous.