Thursday, April 12, 2012

Applause

By Moira Sullivan
Paprika Steen as "Thea" in Applause.
The subject of the 2009 Danish film Applause seems like a western luxury about problems of people's own making.  The cinematography has a "Dogme" feel to it—the outdated Danish cinematographic conception created by Thomas Vinterberg and Lars Von Trier, which involves making films in the here and now -  no props, natural lighting, and no guns.
The Danish actress  Paprika Steen plays Thea, a middle aged alcoholic actress, along with many of the people in her city in Copenhagen: problem drinkers, heavy drinkers, alike. She is trying to quit and regain the love of her two sons from her failed marriage a year and a half ago. The film is shot around the stage performance of Applause with Paprika Steen.
Martin Pieter Zandvliet makes his directorial debut in this film, and although it was made three years ago it seems enmeshed with the virtues of "Dogme"- 'naked' reality in detail such as Thea smelling sheets that belong to her young sons an, listening to their forgotten wind up toys. Not only is Thea's husband gone but is together with a new woman, and she must follow them on excursions such as to the zoo if she wants to see her sons. Seeing them once and awhile is all her husband wants to offer.
Broken homes are sad to watch. Thea consoles herself with drink. Her abandonment of herself and her family before and after is tragic. When she goes out, she sits alone, and insults, rightfully so, a man who wants to pick her up. When she later feels sorry for him, he puts her down. Later she meets him again, and discovers she has already been with him one night, in a blackout. She starts to drink again.
All Thea seems to have is her estranged husband and children, and without them she doesn’t seem to have anything except her personal assistant. There is no hope. Only personal misery. Where are the lawyers and why does Thea have to beg her husband’s psychologist lover for the right to see her children? Eventually she seeks professional marital help, makes an appointment with her husband, but doesn’t show.
Paprika Steen makes this film bearable, and is excellent in her role. Many women in her situation will be able to relate. She is the mother of her children but everyone around her punishes her for being ill. No one is better at it then Thea herself whose self-inflicted pain is difficult to watch. 
Applause is an admirable film for its sense of reality, even if the problems in the larger scheme of the world seem unimportant. Nothing is more real than the human connection, and in this respect, Applause is virtuous.
© 2012 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 04/11/12
Movie Magazine International

The Lady

By Moira Sullivan
Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi

Luc Besson admits he couldn’t let the story about Aung San Suu Kyi go - and so he made a biopic of the woman who recently won a landslide victory for her party in Burma.
The story begins in 1947 when Aung was a young girl and rebel soldiers assassinated her father, the leader of Burma. The film then jumps to many years later where there is a scene with her British husband Michael who hasn’t seen Aung for three years. He has just been diagnosed with cancer. Three years before, Aung left England to take care of her mother in Burma.
Michelle Yeoh plays Aung Saan Suu Kyi and David Thewlis, her husband Michael Aris, a man whose hair is dreadfully uncombed through the entire film.
This is not your typical Luc Besson film; the story is straightforward and dominated by dialogue and sentimental background music. The rising and falling action documents how Aung San Suu Kyi became the beloved leader of her people. 
Burma is plagued by heroin trafficking and the spread of AIDS/HIV, problems escalated during the military junta that took over the government led by Aung's father. A spirit becomes more dangerous if it becomes a ghost, according to a fortune teller.  Furthermore, when a country is in peace it won't need a ghost, she says. Her prophecy to the the general of the military junta makes an impact. However, when Aung is hailed by the people, he considers himself badly advised and instead of retiring to play golf, his red kerchiefed men continue to terrorize the innocent.
Aung’s first speech is done in front of a live audience of one million -  not a computer generated crowd scene,  which is  a refreshing development.  Her life with a foreigner and time away from her country did not diminish her love for the land her father gave his life for.
It is just these simple facts that the military regime becomes aware of, and their obvious truths made Burma the closed society it became. In the documentary released last week and still playing in San Francisco, They Call it Myanmar everyone is watched. The self contained country became closed to public scrutiny inside and out. For these reasons, Aung was put under house arrest.  Unless she was taken to prison to join her people, she declared she would not eat. Michael talks her out of it.
All the lines to Burma are down, especially the ones between Aung and her husband Michael. He tries to return to Burma and is permitted no contact with his embassy - no engagement in politics.
The story is emotional with violin music. The constant phones lines going dead and the ensuing tears make it a dismal story. Nevertheless, it is a true one. While Aung was under house arrest, she received the Nobel Peace Prize.  She listened to the story on a radio in her home in Burma.
A remark in the film by an Englishmen after the award that now Burma would have to pay attention is na├»ve—a country that had been under military control for many decades. Burma did not follow the heed for democracy until just this past week when Aung’s party again won a landslide victory in the government. The military government did not heed her need to be with her dying husband in his final days, forcing her to choose between her people and her family.  She replied that it was no choice.
Eric Serra’s soundtrack accompanies the film even as the Burmese march in peaceful protest.  The only people seen in traditional face paint – are Aung's maids.
Aung's struggle was still ongoing in 2010 when The Lady was finished. An end to the torture of the Burmese people was not swayed by political pressure of any kind and it is a miracle that Aung San Suun Kyi survived at all. This film, despite it’s flaws, champions her cause and that of her father. Sade’s “Soldier of Love” accompanies the credits.
© 2012 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 04/11/12
Movie Magazine International