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Arts and Entertainment

Film Review: Danish Drama 'Applause' Deserves A Standing Ovation

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Applause is a truly sobering character study. This is not to make light of the Danish film's portrayal of alcoholism, but to testify how realistic it gets, and how low it goes. You'll think twice before stopping for drinks afterward. But Applause is no heavy-handed buzz-kill. There's a real clarity amidst the pain, and an impressive lead performance seizes all empathy and never lets go.

Applause follows Thea (Paprika Steen of The Celebration and Lars Von Trier's The Idiots & Dancer in the Dark), an actress who lost everything to alcoholism. Fittingly, the film is rough, with a minimal aesthetic of muted colors and wavering camera. It feels like a hangover, and this disorientation thrusts us into Thea's dizzying mindset from the first moment. The framing latches onto her throughout the remaining 80 minutes; one literally cannot look away.

Not that Steen would let you. Applause rests entirely on her shoulders; she knows it's a Herculean effort, and she knows that you know it. Lost in fits of ego & insecurity, Thea is an erratic and, frankly, terrible person. Her desperate bids to see her young sons are the only thing tying her to this world. But she'll go through hell just to spend a moment with them. Steen focuses that passion, her eyes burning bright within that cold, dead shell. It's truly captivating, and despite Thea deserving everything wrong with her life, we can't help but stay with her every step of the way.

There's yet another phenomenal aspect to Steen's performance. Between bouts of the bottle, Thea vies for a career comeback as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? For those keeping score at home - first, Steen asks us to rally behind an abusive alcoholic, and then challenges one of Elizabeth Taylor's most iconic roles! But European arthouse is the perfect training to upset Hollywood royalty; Steen makes the role-within-a-role her own, with a performance every bit as powerful as Taylor's.

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Applause borrows from Denmark's Dogme 95 tradition & is a spiritual relative to the mumblecore movement. By stripping filmmaking down to its essentials, it allows the raw talent and emotion in front of the camera to come through. Anyone up to lobby the Academy for next year's Oscars?

Applause is playing at Laemmle's Sunset 5. Check their site for showtimes.

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