Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Director: Martin Pieter Zandvliet
Cast: Paprika Steen, Michael Falch, Shanti Roney
Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks, Noel Koch-Søfeldt, Lars Brygmann
Almost a monologue of a movie, Applaus is a magnificent showcase for leading lady Paprika Steen. She plays Thea Barfoed, a famed theater actress trying to resume her life after alcoholism lead her to divorce and losing the custody of her children.
She tries to convince her ex-husband Christian (Falch) that she is ready to be a mother again and manipulates him to get her children back.
At its most basic, Applaus is none other than the dream movie for an actress and in theory it's a walk in the park towards awards glory; however, Steen grabs all of the stereotypes we'd expect from this kind of performance and slaps us right on the face by creating a woman that's creating herself in front of our eyes.
The plot is basically a slice out of Thea's complicated life and we see her in a series of vignettes as she spends time with her children, deals with her lawyer, tries to avoid the temptation of alcohol and most interesting of all, we see her acting.
The play she's in is Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?, where of course she plays Martha and what results so fascinating about watching her play this iconic character is that the director isn't trying to conceal that we should be drawing parallels between the character and the woman playing her.
The truly perplexing thing is that even though the director sees it and the audience sees it, Thea seems to have no idea of what's going on. This is a woman who becomes fully alive on stage yet fails to get a clue in "real life".
That she's capable of separating craft from reality lets us know that Thea is in fact a great actress and more often than not we are left craving to see her play other parts.
What Steen provides then is a multilayered performance that goes beyond any "life as a stage" metaphors and concentrates on the humanity that lingers in this troubled woman,
Watching her make jokes backstage we get a feeling that she's drawing inspiration from some of the great divas, yet when she accuses her ex-husband of having turned her beloved offspring into "Nazi children" we understand that she hasn't truly learned how to modulate all this intensity into the person she's trying to become.
On most scenes we see Steen all by herself, even when she's with other people, the camera follows her mostly. We see her in closeup during some of her most intimate moments and not for a single second do we detect any vanity emanating from Steen, in fact she encourages us to see the insecurity in Thea.
During the film's most haunting sequence, Thea tries to make amends with a stranger (Roney) she was rude to at a bar. After some small talk, she takes him home and for the first time we see her coming to terms with all she's done.
Going from playful and childlike, to terrified and ultimately ashamed, Steen goes through an intense prism of emotions that will leave you astounded. "This isn't a part, it's my life" says Thea and with the conviction with which she is played by Steen, we never would dare to doubt her.