Written and directed by Maria Sødahl, the relationship between artist-partners Tomas and Anja is put to the test after Anja gets a life-threatening diagnosis. Starring: Andrea Bræin Hovig, Stellan Skarsgård, Elli Rhiannon Müller Osborne, Alfred Vatne, Steinar Klouman Hallert, Daniel Storm Forthun Sandbye, Eirik Hallert, Dina Enoksen Elvehaug, Einar Økland and Gjertrud L. Jynge.
More often than not, films dealing with terminal illness revolve around either people who are madly in love, or people who are about to be in the course of the film, but not Hope. Maria Sødahl’s style consistently throughout this film, in both writing and direction, is committed to keeping things relatable, realistic and grounded. The story itself is entirely relatable, you may not be able to empathise with having incurable cancer but you more than likely can with the inept treatment and service they get from hospitals and the struggle to relay the bad news to the family. As well as just the struggle to keep going when being forced to face your reality with all its flaws and regrets. It’s the key to this film’s success because it’s a rare example of not trying to glamorise or romanticise illness, although granted it is still slightly romantic in its softer moments.
There’s an intense and unrelenting sadness at work here, Sødahl doesn’t let you escape it for a moment. Her direction in particular has a tendency to allow scenes to linger just that extra moment longer to drive home its realism. It never tries to fill every moment, it has a quiet and thoughtful quality. This may not work for everyone, some may find it slightly long but in its defence, it never truly asks that much of your patience, as it continually moves forward and has more to add. There’s also a stylish quality to the direction and cinematography (by Manuel Alberto Claro), it’s an intensely emotional topic but the aesthetic retains a sharpness and a depth to its colour.
A great deal of its intensity comes from Andrea Bræin Hovig’s performance, it’s incredible, bringing an explosive level of emotion. It’s almost hard to watch at times, which only goes further to show the quality of her portrayal; the experience of her character is undoubtedly unenviable and she captures the huge range of feeling which goes along with that exceptionally well. With the story going for far from a perfect marriage, Stellan Skarsgård presents a new spin on the lost husband in troubled times. He still has a classically stoic edge which he does so well but instead of immediately trying to fawn over his wife, he’s interestingly pragmatic. That’s not to say he isn’t emotional, it’s all still there but portrayed in a different fashion, you can see it held beneath the surface and gradually rising as time goes on. It’s part of what creates the great dynamic and chemistry between them, they’re overt about their problems but simultaneously you can feel the connection that’s trying to break through.
Hope is a refreshingly realistic portrayal of terminal illness, for once not about romance but about the trials and tribulations of sickness, marriage and family. It’s unfaltering grounded and while its pace may not work for everyone, it’s admirably committed to portraying everyday life, refusing to glamorise their experiences. Andrea Bræin Hovig gives an award worthy performance, going through an exhausting amount of emotion and doing it with a superb intensity. She’s well matched by Stellan Skarsgård who presents an entirely different personality, but the two have a wonderful connection. It’s not the easiest film to watch but it’s moving, well shot and poignant.