On Friday night, I had the pleasure of screening for the second time, the Danish award-winning film Applause at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, Ca. Applause, directed by Martin Pieter Zandvliet from a screenplay by Anders Frithiof August and Zandvliet, stars Denmark’s leading actress Paprika Steen and is produced by her husband Mikael Christian Rieks, founder of Koncern Film. I had originally seen the film this past January when I covered the Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2010 for Moving Pictures Magazine. The powerful drama impressed me the first time I saw it, and more so this time as I realized that Paprika Steen is in every frame of this film–much of the time in extremely unforgiving close-up–and is captivating throughout. She was equally appealing in person, with a charming, smart, likeable personality.
Left: my snapshot of Paprika Steen at the Aero Theater, Friday, December 3, 2010.
Applause, which won both the Bodil (Denmark’s Golden Globe) and the Robert (Denmark’s Oscar) is making Oscar-qualifying runs in America, which started on December 3 in Los Angeles and continue this week in New York City prior to a wider national release by World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation (formerly OTCBB:WWMO), who has acquired exclusive North American distribution rights for the feature. Ms. Steen is here to support the film and her role, participating in a number of the screenings with an audience Q & A.
Paprika Steen has already won a Robert for Best Actress for her role in Applause and was nominated for Best Actress for the Bodil.
If there ever was an Oscar-worthy performance, it is Steen’s compelling tour-de-force role as the 40-something aging actress Thea Barfoed in Applause. Shot on 16mm, the film has a grainy, gritty quality and the almost monotone blue and amber tones give the movie an overall somber, dark ambience that underscores the film’s darker themes. At the moment, there is little sunlight in Thea’s life.
Returning after an 18-month hiatus from her children’s lives and time spent in rehab, recovering alcoholic and famous stage actress Thea comes home to reclaim her life. At the same time that she attempts to re-connect with her children, ex-husband and his new wife as a sober woman, we see flashbacks of her on stage as she plays the booze-drenched Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which, in a strange art imitates life situation, is actual footage from Steen’s brilliantly successful role in the play in a Copenhagen production. Martha mirrors Thea’s inner demons as she struggles to leave the past behind and find the light.
Using a process that the actress describes as relying more on intuition than method, Steen creates for us a refreshingly naturalistic and nuanced, unabashedly flawed human character that we cannot look away from, no matter how painful the moment. With raw, honest emotion and intimate camera close-ups, Steen ably lets us identify with and feel compassion for an imperfect woman who is struggling to recover her life and dignity, not always successfully but very humanly, with all the flaws, wrinkles and mistakes that real people experience. Like the toys she buys for her sons–plastic Viking weapons–even her moments of playfulness are potentially menacing and emotionally ambiguous.
Half-American, the 46-year-old actress was born in Denmark to the American actress Avi Sagild and Danish musician and conductor Niels Jørgen. Steen is looking forward to returning to her mother’s roots and working in America. When an audience member asked her when she would be coming here, she was delighted to answer candidly that she’s currently in talks with people in the States.
So, we may be seeing more of Paprika Steen in America soon, maybe as soon as February…at the Oscars.
(Photo right: Steen with screen/real life son (left) Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks and child actor Noel Koch-Søfeldt)