Set during an 11-day period during the Christmas holidays, Hope (Håp) stars Andrea Bræin Hovig as Anja, a choreographer who learns, at age 43, that she has advanced brain cancer and has only three months to live. She lives with Tomas, an older man played by Stellan Skarsgård, and their “blended” family—three from his previous marriage and three of their own. Anja, and, to a lesser extent, Tomas, try to come to terms with this tragedy and how to break the news to their children…and how to deal with each other.
This is subject matter that could easily descend into trite and maudlin territory. Instead the characters, their reactions and their actions, are remarkably realistic. There is a good reason for this. It is the true story of the writer-director, Maria Sødahl. The film opens with the words, “This is my story as I remember it,” and she means it, although she did change some details so the actors did not have to feel that they were portraying Sødahl and her real family.
Anja is not a goody-goody character. She is particularly harsh with Tomas, who is immersed in his work as a theater director and no longer expresses his love for Anja. Anja, in her daily life, wants to be strong and self-sufficient. But when she comes to terms with the fact that she will probably die soon, she realizes that it is a blessing to have a family and a best friend.
Anja and Tomas spend a lot of time visiting doctors, nurses and other health professionals, not an easy task during the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. All of these roles, seventeen in total, are played not by professional actors, but by real medical personnel, which adds to the authenticity built upon Sødahl’s personal experiences.
I’m guessing that if Hope was an American film, Andrea Bræin Hovig would be a favorite for a Best Actress nomination. As for Stellan Skarsgård, who won a Golden Globe award in 2020 for his role in Chernobyl, he is solid…as usual.