February 25, 2010
From the first images of Applause, Martin Zandvliet seeks to capture a rawness and immediacy in his complex, if familiar portrait of a recovering alcoholic. Shot in grainy, desaturated medium and close-ups with a handheld camera, a middle-aged woman (Paprika Steen), seemingly under the influence, makes a candid assessment of her relationship with her husband. A reference to their Anglicized names, George and Martha, presents an initial disconnect, and subsequent confrontations with her unseen husband recontextualizes her drunken tirade as scenes from Edward Albee's play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The interconnection - and dissociation - between reality and drama also provides the framework for the respected actress, Thea's volatile personality. Unable to maintain a relationship since her divorce from Christian (Michael Falch), and having relinquished custody of her children to him after an alcohol-fueled act of negligence, Thea is eager to turn over a new leaf. But soon, the delineation between real-life and performance collapses for her, measuring her struggle to reconnect within the emotional arcs of a staged drama, and in the process, drifts even further away from finding some semblance of a normal life that continues to elude her. In its grittiness and intimacy, Applause recalls the spirit of John Cassavetes's cinema, most notably, Opening Night and A Woman Under the Influence. However, it is also this association that ultimately undermines the film's potency by framing its provocative character study of self-destruction and recovery in a generic looseleaf of conventional tropes and allusive homages.