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Originally published Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

This character — and movie — deserves 'Applause'

A review of "Applause," a Danish movie that features a bravura turn by Paprika Steen, as an acclaimed actress whose life and art overlap.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'Applause,' with Paprika Steen, Michael Falch, Sara-Marie Maltha, Shanti Roney, Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks, Noel Koch-Søfeldt. Directed by Martin Pieter Zandvliet, from a screenplay by Anders Frithiof August and Zandvliet. 84 minutes. Rated R for language. In Danish with English subtitles. Varsity.

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What if the actress playing the heavy-drinking Martha on stage every night in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was, offstage, a recovering alcoholic? That's the rich premise behind Danish filmmaker Martin Pieter Zandvliet's drama "Applause" — and the trigger behind a marvelous performance by Paprika Steen, who's in every scene of the film and crafts an intricate portrait of a woman teetering on the brink, but never toppling.

Thea (Steen), an acclaimed actress who wears her tangled blond mane and elaborate makeup like armor, has pulled herself back from the darkness, for the most part: As the film begins, she's receiving ovations for "Virginia Woolf," settling into a new apartment (after an unseen stint in rehab) and trying to re-establish a connection with her two young sons, who went to their father in a divorce. She's got a hair-trigger temper (she loses it in Toys R Us, frustrated at not knowing what her kids would want), a sly wit and a don't-mess-with-me toughness — and yet this strong woman often sits alone in a bar sipping water with lemon because she's not sure where else to go. At ease on stage but less so with life, she practices her "lines" before meeting with her ex, hoping to make things go smoothly. There's little applause in real life, Thea movingly learns — except for that which, by the end, she's finally able to give herself.

Moira Macdonald:

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