Applause (Denmark; 85 min.)

directed by:Martin Zandvliet
starring:Paprika Steen; Lars Brygmann; Michael Falch; Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks; Noel Koch Søfeldt; Shanti Roney

Bruce says: "At the 2007 premiere of her film WITH YOUR PERMISSION at the Toronto International Film Festival Paprika Steen announced that she and the film’s star, Lars Brygmann, would be playing George and Martha in Copenhagen in the spring of 2008, part of a worldwide celebration of Edward Albee’s 80th birthday.   What a surprise that actual footage from their stage performances would end up in APPLAUSE, the story of an alcoholic stage actress who, in spite of making it through rehab, cannot shake the demons that drive her to drink.  Her marriage has dissolved; she has lost custody of her children; she clings to her craft in desperation, for that is all she has left.  

"Steen is ever so convincing as Thea Bafoed and Albee’s equally desperate, tough-talking Martha in 'Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'  It is impossible to not acknowledge that APPLAUSE is a tour-de-force for a woman who is one of the best actresses working today.  In that regard, the film is success.  However, there is little more going on that watching the disintegration of a life that is equal parts of talent and despair.   Tales of substance abusers always keep the viewer at a distance with the irrationality of behavior central to the plot.  But watching the hopelessness is never easy.  Thea is awkward when spending time with the two sons she has lost.  'Is your new mother nice?' she asks.  'Dad says you’re crazy,' one of them tells her, shaking away the little confidence she has left.  In a frenzied attempt to justify her behavior she says of her children, 'They would be boring if it weren’t for me.'   Christian (Michael Falch), her ex-husband, can only shake his head.

"The pressure of the stage and the travails of getting her life back together lead Thea back to one of the bars she haunted before rehab.  There she meets Tom from Berlin (Shanti Roney).  She invites him back to her place where she hears some words that are jarring but profound.  Finally, Thea is able to make some tough choices.

The scenes from 'Virginia Woolf' are grainy, shot with a hand-held camera that I found annoying and unsatisfactory although I seemed to be in the minority among my fellow viewers.  As wonderful a Steen’s performance is, the film left me wanting more vignettes to create a greater depths of character for both Thea and the supporting cast.    3 1/2cats

"(APPLAUSE screened at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.)"


Michael says: "In a tour de force performance, Danish actress, and Chlotrudis honoree Paprika Steen unleashes a powerful and fiery performance as an actress recovering from alcoholism. Thea’s addiction led to her divorce and loss of custody of her two young sons. Now on the road to recovery, Thea takes hesitant steps toward being a part of her children’s lives again. Her ex-husband is trying to help, but Thea’s impatience causes her to lash out in frustration, needing things to move more quickly because as she notes, she doesn’t drink anymore. As she feels her life spinning increasingly more out of control, she relies heavily on her caustic wit and biting intelligence. She lashes out in one moment, and then submits to logic and calm the next. It’s exhausting to watch, giving the viewer an idea of what it must be like to live it. The narrative is intercut with scenes of Thea playing Martha in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ on stage – scenes of Paprika actually performing the role in Denmark. The juxtaposition allows for insight into Thea’s character, and provides us with a nice twist at the film’s end.

"While first time solo director Martin Pieter Zandvliet does a good job keeping things tightly focused on Thea, shooting her in unflattering lighting and in tight close-up as an unforgiving witness, he and his collaborator Anders Frithiof August fare less well with the screenplay, which doesn’t allow for much of a dramatic arc. That said, this film is all about Paprika Steen and her unflinching, exhilarating performance. Awarded the best actress award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, this is a sure contender for a Chlotrudis award if it gets released in the U.S. While I would give Paprika’s performance 5 cats, the film as a whole gets 3 ½ cats."

Chris says: "The terrific Danish actress Paprika Steen (THE CELEBRATION) is absolutely harrowing and brilliant as Thea, an alcoholic actress in this intense drama from director Martin Pieter Zandvliet. Although John Cassavetes already covered this territory decades ago in his films which starred his wife, Gena Rowlands (particularly OPENING NIGHT), Steen is so riveting and her character’s persona so all encompassing that whether the story is second hand soon seems irrelevant. As the film follows Thea’s attempts at sobriety, it folds in scenes of her onstage (and backstage as well) as raucous, boozy Martha in a production of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. Martha and Thea’s similarities are obvious, but Steen’s grasp on both roles lends depth to the connection. Throughout, Thea emerges as an intriguing (if deeply troubled) blend of personality tics, constantly speaking her mind only to immediately rescind. At one point, she nonchalantly blurts out, “I hate ordinary people,” and then quickly apologizes; it’s to Steen’s credit that you could spend an hour debating whether Thea is sincere or just merely defensive. 4.5 cats"
Thom says: "A terrific performance from the great Danish Actress Steen raises this up from the normal. She plays a largely successful actress who is currently doing 'WHO’S AFRAID IF VIRGINIA WOOLF?.' She’s recently left a rehab clinic where she went to clean herself up from a terrible alcohol addiction. She’s divorced her husband but she wants to re-establish occurring contact with her two sons & she must convince the proper authorities that she is ready to come back into their lives. Steen is sensational as the histrionic “diva” but otherwise the film’s a bit of a drudge. 3 1/2 cats"
Jason says: "APPLAUSE is a fairly good movie wrapped around a superlative performance.  Its American release is a calling card for star Paprika Steen, a familiar face to fans of Danish film who is not nearly so well known in the States.  By the time the film finishes, audiences will certainly be familiar with every inch of that face, and few will have many doubts about the talent behind it.

"The film opens on Thea Barfoed (Steen) performing on stage, playing Martha in Edward Albee's 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'  It is, perhaps, not the greatest role for a recovering alcoholic, though it may be the one that comes most naturally.  She's good in the role, maybe brilliant, although temperamental backstage, berating her young dresser (Malou Leth Reymann).  Away from the theater, she's more than a bit of a mess - just out of rehab, with little to do but sit around the apartment not drinking all day.  She would like more time with her children (Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks and Noel Koch-Søfeldt), but there are very good reasons why her ex-husband Christian (Michael Falch) and his wife Maiken (Sara-Marie Maltha) have full custody.

"Director Martin Zandvliet knows that this movie is resting on Paprika Steen's performance, and he spends the bulk of the movie squarely focusing on it.  It's not just that Steen is in every scene (she is), but that most of those scenes are framed to put her in the direct center of the widescreen frame, often in close-up.  The action is not going to happen in the corners, and it's not even so much about how the rest of the world reacts to her - the audience is supposed to pay attention to Steen's Thea; she's the whole reason that the movie exists.

"Interestingly, the main exception to that is when Thea is on-stage and overtly in character; though we only rarely see anyone else in the cast, we're not given the same close look at Thea-as-Martha as with Thea herself.  We see a lot more of the back of her head or her walking across the stage, sometimes fast enough for the various bits of digital equipment between capture and progression to have some compression problems.  This may be deliberate; the footage actually comes from Paprika Steen acting in a production of 'Virginia Woolf,' and having things be too clear might lead the audience to see some 'Thea' in the performance that's not actually there.  Or it may just have been the best footage Zandvliet and company could get (it wasn't their production).  It's edited in well, serving as a nice break between sequences and showing us that Thea is at least a gifted actress, no matter what else we may think of her.

"Given that Thea being a great actress is such a central part of the story, it's a very good thing that the film has a real-world actress as capable as Steen in the role.  It doesn't hurt that she plays the part without vanity - the close-ups show us just how ragged she is made up to look as Thea - but mostly because the part calls for a delicately balanced layer of artifice - we have to be able to see that performing is not limited to the stage for Thea, but something she does in her personal life, even when there's nobody else around.  She has to be good, but not so perfect that the audience and people in her life can't see what she's doing an be ready to call her on it.  Steen walks that tightrope without a hitch.  She also lets us see glimpses of the interesting, contradictory personality underneath her facades:  Though her relationships with her kids is far from perfect (some of her reasons for wanting to spend more time with them are selfish, and it shouldn't escape notice that she relates best to them when playing make-believe), there is genuine love there; but she is a naturally manipulative, self-centered person.

"Indeed, many of her best scenes are ones that actively alienate the audience.  There's one in a pub where Thea and Tom Roney's Tom start off as just respectively snippy and pushy, but become more engrossing as their conversation reveals just how horrible each character really is.  If Roney were just in that one scene, it would likely be the film's most memorable supporting performance, because it's the only one where someone else engages Thea in a real back-and-forth; the rest of the cast, while doing what is asked with them well, is mainly there to react to Thea.

"That's somewhat true of the film as a whole; it's a great part for Paprika Steen, and few are likely to forget her performance afterward, but nearly all else is background.  Quite good background to an excellent bit of acting - and even if it weren't, it's not like you would say the acting makes up for what comes between it, as there is no between it. 4 cats

"Seen 20 December 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché)"