Virtual Cinema | Norway’s Pick for Oscar Consideration: “Hope” April 4, 2021
Bearing witness to a story about an incurable cancer diagnosis is, unquestionably, quite challenging. But writer/director Maria Sødahl’s autobiographical film is a rewarding viewing experience. Thanks to the layered script and stellar performances, Hope tells an authentic and moving tale about the resilience of love.
It is Christmas time in Oslo, and theater director Anja (played by rising Norwegian star Andrea Bræin Hovig) is returning home for the holidays after an acclaimed international debut. Anja’s life seems happy in her home with six children, although she is annoyed by the absence of her workaholic partner, Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård). Cracks in their relationship were already showing before Anja’s visit to a hospital, but the news of her diagnosis truly puts the couple’s love to the test. Over the course of a short, week-long winter holiday, Anja and Tomas face a crisis that changes their lives forever.
The film’s quiet, observational style makes their experience painfully realistic. Cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro (a frequent collaborator of Lars von Trier’s) keeps the camera close to the main characters, so the viewer perceives their smallest gestures. This raw and authentic visual storytelling is what makes Hope so uniquely moving.
Sødahl relied on her own experience with cancer when creating her emotionally complex characters. She is married to Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland, who inspired the quietly understanding but somewhat distant Tomas. Incidentally, the internationally known Skarsgård is a real-life friend and artistic collaborator of Moland’s. Despite Skarsgård’s fame, Hope is solidly about Anja, who must come to terms with her illness not just as a partner but also as a mother. Hovig conveys Anja’s growing desperation with graceful nuance.
Though shortlisted for the 2021 Academy Awards, Hope was not selected as a nominee. However, with the news that Nicole Kidman’s film company is producing a TV series based on the film (with Kidman herself in the lead role), Sødahl can now hope for even wider success.
About the Author
Eszter Simor, a Hungarian-born film scholar and critic, is a visiting assistant professor at Sam Houston State University.
Underwriting for the Film Department is provided by Tenaris and the Vaughn Foundation. Generous funding is provided by Nina and Michael Zilkha; The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea; Franci Neely; Carrin Patman and Jim Derrick; Lois Chiles Foundation; ILEX Foundation; L’Alliance Française de Houston; and The Foundation for Independent Media Arts.