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Interview with Martin Pieter Zandvliet the director of Applause.

Image: Martin Pieter Zandvliet (right) with his leading lady Paprika Steen

Applause, the impressive debut feature from Danish director Martin Pieter Zandvliet, tells the story of Thea, an acclaimed actress attempting to reconnect with her two young sons whilst recovering from alcoholism. Atmospherically shot and admirably economical in its storytelling, the film is anchored by a stunning lead performance from veteran actress Paprika Steen (Festen, Open Hearts, The Idiots). We caught up with Martin between Festival screenings on Friday.

What was your starting point for Thea's back story?

Well in my family there's always been a lot of drinking, and my father left me when I was three years old, so for me this is a very personal film about betrayal. In a way you could say Paprika plays my father - just in a dress! - and I'm the abandoned child. But it's also about hope - Thea is caught in limbo, but desperately wants a normal life, and to give motherhood another go.

In terms of creating something believable, I cast Paprika very early in the process. I spent time hanging out with her and getting a feel for the way she used language. So Thea's dialogue is very much based on things Paprika would say herself. I don't have much experience of working with actors, so this seemed a good way to ensure strong performances.

You previously worked as an editor - how has that experience informed your approach to directing?

Editing gave me the security of knowing how to control a scene. The shots you see in the film are the only shots I did - I didn't bother with two shots or establishing shots or anything like that. As an editor I could never understand why directors did these - it seemed a complete waste of time!

What was your working relationship with Paprika? Obviously she's a very established actress and has directed films herself. Was she respectful of you as a first-time director, or did she have strong opinions about how the film should take shape?

I think she has strong opinions about everything! A lot of people warned me that she'd be difficult to work with, but I didn't find that at all. I think it helped that she seemed to find me quite mysterious! When we're on set I don't say much, and I don't pat people on the back when they've done something good - I'm just focused on capturing what I need for the scene. But overall this has been one of the best experiences of my life, and Paprika and I are very good friends now.

You cite John Cassavetes and Bob Fosse as influences, but I've also seen Applause described as a post-Dogme film - do you think the shadows of Dogme and Lars von Trier still loom large over Danish cinema?

The funny thing is I didn't even think about Dogme when I was making this film, but looking at it now I can see that it uses a lot of the same techniques - I do use real locations and all the natural light I can get. But it's been a good thing for Danish cinema on the whole. And I think Lars von Trier's fantastic - God's gift to Denmark. I have actually worked on some of his projects but I don't think he knows that!

Paul O'Callaghan

Comments (1)

I saw Applause at Virginia

I saw Applause at Virginia Film Festifal. I think it is the best foreign film I have seen this year. Paprika steen gave a great performance, and the story is so real. It's just like the story happens around me

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