The general premise of Hope sounds undeniably bleak, and even a little familiar. On paper, the film might initially seem like a stagey, disease-of-the-week TV drama, but the narrative unfolds with a devastating fragility. It chronicles a story about mounting, though muted, despair, while all around the feeling of hope remains ubiquitous – as it must.
Andrea Bræin Hovig is Anja, returning home just before Christmas after a well-received international performance by the dance company she heads. Her peculiar bouts of ill health are swiftly identified as a massive brain tumour, thought to have metastasized from the lung cancer she successfully overcame just the Christmas before. With her condition deemed inoperable, Anja must navigate a complex emotional journey that requires her to face the elements of her life that might have been unfulfilled, just as that life is entering its endgame.
The rawness of the narrative becomes more potent due to the fact that the movie is a fictionalised version of director Maria Sødahl’s own life. Sødahl was diagnosed with terminal cancer seven years ago, and now stares her own mortality square in the face with her husband, Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland, by her side. Stellan Skarsgård plays Moland’s proxy, as Anja’s partner Tomas. This is a potentially officious casting choice, as Skarsgård and Moland are frequent collaborators, with the Swedish actor most recently appearing in Moland’s Out Stealing Horses (Ut og stjæle hester), which competed at the 69th Berlinale in 2019.
Neither Anja nor Tomas are sanctified: they’re presented as a couple trying to prove to themselves that their relationship is as authentic and uncompromised as they thought it to be. Domesticity continues, as Hope takes viewers through certain essential emotional beats, all with quiet efficiency. Though the presupposed awareness of how such an account will unravel might make it feel like the film could just elicit a numbing indifference, Hope is a moving story of aspiration, delivered with intelligence. Bring tissues.
Hope is released in select cinemas on 10th December 2021.
Watch the trailer for Hope here: