Applause may present as gritty European realism, but the struggle inside Thea is almost theological in scale, and worthy of Milton or Kierkegaard.
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It is a singular performance and a deeply affecting if imperfect film.
Her (Steen) emotional acrobatics are reason enough to sit through Applause's parade of pain, though it's a movie to admire rather than enjoy.
Steen, her face full of remorse, does a great job of portraying someone unclear of where to go or what to say without a script.
In his debut feature, the director is wise enough to move his hand-held camera wherever Steen wants to go.
When an actress gives herself as wholly as Ms. Steen does here, a filmmaker should return the favor with a comparable level of craft and commitment, which is largely absent from this movie.
Usually an enervating process to witness onscreen, Steen's subtle calibrations of self-hatred and raging narcissism exhilarate.
Zandvliet's direction lacks Steen's gradations. The handheld, rubbed-raw style wears thin after a while, growing monotonous and wearying.
The simple but affecting film begins a weeklong award-qualifying run Friday before opening in stateside art houses Jan. 21, and is worth a look for its gutsy and commanding central performance.
A small movie with modest ambitions, and accordingly, it packs only a modest emotional punch.