Tomas and Anja have been together for years. With a blended family of six, Anja’s career as a choreographer, and Tomas’s career as a theatre producer, their love has become merely the backbone from which life hangs together. Just before Christmas Anja receives a horrifying medical diagnosis which threatens to turn their lives upside down.
The action in Hope takes place over the Jul week in Norway as Anja and Tomas attempt to negotiate urgent medical treatment whilst trying to maintain an air of yuletide normalcy for the children’s sake.
Writer-director Maria Sødahl has based this screenplay on her own experience. Hope is at once unashamedly autobiographical, and also very much a work of fiction. The characters of Anja and Tomas have a life of their own, due in no small part to the extraordinary acting of Andrea Bræin Hovig (Keiler Street) and Stellan Skarsgård (Chernobyl; Mamma Mia). At its heart, this is a love story. And the two leads revel in the exquisitely grown-up script handed to them. Ably supported by a wonderful ensemble including Elli Rhiannon Müller Osborne and Einar Økland, Hovig and Skarsgård give us what must surely be one of the great on-screen relationships.
This is no cliched, sentimental, cancer movie. No one is wandering around in a head-scarf looking pale and interesting. Here is the nitty-gritty of serious illness in all its clinical, tedious, detail, including the fact that specialists go on holidays around Jul time and can’t be found! But more importantly, here is a portrait of a long-term relationship. After nearly twenty years together juggling two careers, six children, a household, and a social life, can Anja and Tomas find some focus on each other, and on their relationship? Sødahl’s script explores all this and more: the emotional maelstrom of blended families; the meanings of infidelity; the disappointments of adult life; the minutiae of passionate love; the nature of memory.
Sødahl directs with the assuredness of a confident parent, giving her charges boundaries, but letting them explore. Manuel Alberto Claro’s beautiful cinematography finds aesthetic meaning in small corners of hospitals, waiting-rooms, and family homes.
Hope is, quite simply, a masterpiece.
Hope screens as part of the Scandinavian Film Festival which opens on July 13th at Palace Nova Eastend.
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