Gerald Wright's Movie Coverage
APPLAUSE MOVIE REVIEW
Directed by: Martin Pieter Zandvliet
Running time: 85 min.
Release date: January 21, 2011
Genre: Drama (Danish with English subtitles)
Distributor: World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation
MPAA Rating: R
Applause is an acclaimed drama from Denmark starring Paprika Steen, who has been long recognized as one of Scandinavia's most admired actresses. She gives a bravura performance as stage actress and recovering alcoholic desperately seeking to regain control over her life while re-connecting with the two young sons whose custody she surrendered to her former husband. This intense personal struggle occurs as she is starring in a stage production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a role Denmark's acclaimed real-life actress Paprika Steen famously enacted on the Danish stage.
Thea Barfoed (Steen) is a middle-age theater actress with an enormous ego accompanied by a terrible disposition. After many years on the stage, and after leaving her sons Willian and Matthias (Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks and Noel Koch-Sofeldt) with their father years prior to advance her career, she now feels loneliness and wants to make amends. Her disease of alcoholism hinders her well-being; however, she manages to perform on stage as the lead character Martha in the play. Her excessive drinking keeps her in character 24 hours of a 7 day week. In fact, she seems to live her life through her stage character. After seeing her sons and asking for partial custody from her ex-husband Christian (Michael Falch) and his new wife Maiken (Sara-Marie Maltha), Thea decides to quit drinking by going "cold turkey" from the booze. While her new found sobriety hangs in the balance, Thea must confront her inner turmoil to meet her goal. Of course, Christian and his new wife are skeptical and have difficulties trusting her.
Director Martin Pieter Zandvliet masterfully crafts a story about how human beings betray the ones closest to us, when we ourselves have been betrayed. The stage sequences give the film a documentary edge, and Paprika Steen gives a brilliant performance of a manipulative diva trying to persuade her husband to give her another chance. The shots of the live performance at the theater focus exclusively on Steen. It's a pure power move combining the stage performance of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the film's plot. It is interwoven as a psychological struggle while intensely reflecting on Thea's life. The recurring theme of her conformity at odds with herself and the free expression she dramatically displays on screen, visually carried me from her past as a prism for the understanding her present. She really shines in this role, displaying the complexities of an "over-the-hill primadonna" longing for something better in life, yet having difficulties judging what is right and wrong. Thea is a woman who must resolve the ghosts of her past in order to realize the dream of being a mother despite her egocentric history.
The unusual mixture of film and theater is a creative marvel. I enjoyed how successfully the setting and atmosphere came across and how the plot flowed all the way through the film. I had my doubts at first, wondering if this human drama would work with authentic footage from a stage production. It was neither contrive nor pathetic. It was completely innovative.
Centering on the cinematic tradition of good acting and a good story, Applause is outstanding!
FILM RATING (A)