Thursday, December 23, 2010

CineCaché #7: Applause

If you're reading this because you're a fan of independent film in the Boston area, there's a good chance you've met Chlotrudis Society for Independnet Film president Michael Colford. He's the guy who stands up to introduce films Chlotrudis introduces at festivals, and is otherwise gregarious and enthusiastic. And, like all of us, he has favorites.

They're usually actor/writer/director-types from Canada, but somehow Paprika Steen got on his list. I'm not sure exactly what did it; part of it was that she was scheduled to be the guest of honor at the society's awards ceremony in March '09; she wound up not being able to make it because of illness. That was the one where I missed the ceremony but made it to the party because I went to SXSW and that's how the air travel worked; as soon as I got there, I had a video camera shoved in my face and was asked if I wanted to record a message to Paprika. As I'm very tired, I mumble something about how it's not like we're friends.

Anyway, every time Ms. Steen has had a movie come anywhere close to North America, Boston independent film fans have heard about it ("Yes, Michael, we almost met her once; it was almost very exciting..."). I look forward to the next month and a half of excited emails every time she's named on a best-of list and nearly-subtle campaigning for her when we prepare our own awards.

But, he's just one of the guys who attended the screening on Monday, as well as the discussion afterward. I feel a little bad about not crediting the folks there within the review when I review a movie in the CineCaché series (or the Eye-Opener before it); aside from just the information I didn't know beforehand (for instance, that the production of "Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf" was not something the filmmakers did), I'm really not sure how much of the analysis was second-hand.

One thing that was mentioned was that Steen and her representation have literally been using Applause as a calling card, trying to get her some English-language work. As cover letters for one's c.v. go, it beats the heck out of mine, although it's maybe not what I would use to get comedy work. I am a little surprised that other folks were surprised about that being her goal; some of the Dogme 95 films she was in were pretty funny, and her biggest video release in the States is probably The Substitute is a stitch (and also family-friendly; that this kids' movie got rated R in the U.S. and thus marketed like a horror film).

Sure, a lot of her work that made it over to the U.S., especially to play theaters, is dramatic, but that's the self-selecting nature of foreign films - the award contenders show up in boutique theaters much more often than the stuff made to sell popcorn, and Ms. Steen has probably sold a whole bunch of popcorn that Americans just aren't aware of.

(And, if you're going to come to a foreign country and work in a foreign language, it's likely going to be for the stuff that pays well - you can do dramas that earn you respect back home, but international hits get made in Hollywood)

Applaus (Applause)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 December 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché)

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.

Full review at EFC.

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