Directed by Martin Zandvliet. Starring Paprika Steen, Michael Falch, Sara-Marie Maitha, Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks, Noel Koch-Søfeldt. (2011, R, 85 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 16, 2011

I'll come right out and say it up front: Paprika Steen's turn as a fresh-from-rehab alcoholic desperate to regain (or at least recall) both a sense of emotional normalcy and the custody of her two young boys is the single best performance I've seen all year.

Steen (The Celebration) plays Thea Barfoed, a gorgeous, fading yet still mesmerizing stage actress. Director and co-writer Zandvliet (with Anders Frithiof August), slipping as easily from the dark humor of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Thea's current role is, appallingly, majestically, as Martha – to the even more obsidian terrors of his protagonist's perilously fragile mental state, has created for Steen a dream role of epic proportions. Looking just past her glamorous, leonine prime but nonetheless still able to attract the unwanted attentions of the men at the bar where she nightly stops for a soda water (testing and teasing the not entirely banished demons of her recent past, perhaps), Thea is a bundle of jangled false starts and near-stops, frantic on the inside and never more truly comfortable than when she's onstage, sloshing faux gin and haranguing poor George, in what must be a painful parody (or mirror) of her life prior to rehab.

Michael Falch, as Thea's ex-husband, Christian, has a face nearly as expressive as Steen's; it appears to have been eroded over several millennia by, one assumes, his ex-wife's bottle-fed rages and indiscretions. Applause is mum on what, specifically, those outbursts might have entailed, but there is a brief allusion to child endangerment. Nonetheless, Christian, who in the interim has taken up with a comely, compassionate psychologist (Maltha), allows their two young boys (Steen Rieks and Koch-Søfeldt, both hesitant and pixie-excellent) to visit their mother, whom, it turns out, they barely remember. Desperate to reconnect, she lavishes them with toys, but clearly more than plastic Viking helmets are necessary to repair the past.

Which ultimately is what Applause is really about: applying the greasepaint of the daily mundane over the scar tissue of a damaged life, striving for a reality outside of a bottle (and off the stage) while still maintaining some semblance of what made this particular lion roar in the first place. Steen is more than up to the task. Thea's pride is her pride, and losing them again may be more than even this queen of the theatrical jungle can stand.

More Paprika Steen Films
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In Keep the Lights On, a spare domestic drama about addiction, filmmaker Ira Sachs makes regular use of a 1986 Arthur Russell song, “Soon-To-Be Innocent ...

Kimberley Jones, Nov. 2, 2012

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Applause, Martin Zandvliet, Paprika Steen, Michael Falch, Sara-Marie Maitha, Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks, Noel Koch-Søfeldt

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