HOPE is a sublime piece of filmmaking. The writer and director, Maria Sodahl delivers a really well observed, written and paced beautifully. Even though it is a very intimate film the themes it tackles are universal; family, love, death and identity all set within what is supposed to be the happiest time of year, Christmas.
All that we all have left like Pandora is Hope. The film HOPE is set over 7 days of Xmas with the action taking place a day before Christmas with Anja (a tour de force performance from Andrea Braein Hovig) receiving the most devastating news, that she has terminal brain cancer. Christmas is already heightened and with a blended family. How will she navigate balance this devastating news whilst ensuring her children have a great time and a husband (the wonderful Stellan Skarsgard) she has fallen out of love with?
HOPE delivers on all fronts. It feels authentic because the writer and director herself had received similar devastating news almost nine years ago and is, now here, telling that story. Ordinarily, when pieces are this close to someone’s life they can feel melodramatic and earnest. Maria Sodahl deftly sidesteps those pitfalls. Instead, she allows her actors to act. There’s the very clever use of sound so sometimes the film is silent as if the oxygen has been sucked out of the room and other times it is overwhelming. For a film tackling the idea of death, it feels uplifting and the character of Anja is strong. It is refreshing to see a female character so complex and not performing in the way one might expect after receiving this type of news. Everyone else around her is crying but she is still processing and Andrea Hovig shows this through action and pauses. The script is wonderful and good films begin and end with a great script. I too enjoyed the layers of complexity, the difference in age between the husband and wife. The blended family and how Anja’s character is unapologetic that she loves her children more than her husband’s. There are so many taboos shattered. The fact that she jealously guards her identity and doesn’t want to be sucked into a role she doesn’t want or need.
As Christmas movies go it is not the usual type but is actually very much needed. It feels both intimate and honest. A lot of us will recognise the storyline around not recognising the person you are now with over so many years. The fear of dying when not ready and how you process news when you’re unprepared. The Christmas setting is pitch perfect and a universal context that everyone will understand. Don’t be put off by the subject matter this film will take you on a journey of reminder, never lose your hope in any area of your life. A complex script told simply devoid of cliches and a complex female character are all the reasons you need to be booking your ticket to see this gem of a film. It’s a gift.
HOPE is released in cinemas across the UK on Friday 10 December.