The performances in Maria Sødahl’s stunning piece of auto-fiction (cinematography by Manuel Alberto Claro of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, which stars Stellan Skarsgård with Kirsten Dunst, and Sødahl’s Limbo) are superb. Hope (Håp), which is Oscar-shortlisted, couples Andrea Bræin Hovig as Anja and Stellan Skarsgård as Tomas. When the worst is confirmed, namely that the lung cancer Anja overcame the previous year may have spread to the brain, nothing in their world stays the same.
Andrea Bræin Hovig in her writing and sewing studio in Oslo
Tomas, whose mind, we learn, had been mainly occupied with his work producing in the theatre, will have to make a choice to either fully support Anja or withdraw into the escape of the regions he seems to be so familiar with. Family friend Vera (Gjertrud . Jynge) enters the picture as a cautious sounding board and observer of a family comprised of six children that is going through a crisis they all thought had been put safely into the past. 10-year-old Isak (Daniel Storm Forthun Sandbye) early on admits that he spies on his family members because “how else can I find out what’s going on?” Secrecy is not always the best way to protect loved ones. As the story unfolds from pre-Christmas into the New Year, key moments shed light on the work it takes to truly be in a committed relationship.
“We haven’t lived the same life,” says Anja when Tomas complains that her description of their history to a priest sounded “shabby.” Her jealousy of the professional opportunities casually afforded him enter in stark relief. The sound design, including boldly placed silences, does its part to make Hope an experience of the senses.
The classic fairy-tale trope of the dying wife telling the husband that she wants him to marry only a woman as beautiful and smart as herself is anything but static in Anja’s head. The medication cocktail takes its toll. Andrea Bræin Hovig merges sickness with strength, her furious vacuuming is as intense as the laughing fit inside the bridal boutique.
Anja (Andrea Bræin Hovig) with Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård): “She’s so proud and I love that she’s not shocked.” Photo: Manuel Alberto Claro
From Oslo, Andrea Bræin Hovig joined me on Zoom for a conversation on Hope.
Anne-Katrin Titze: Hi Andrea, where are you?
Andrea Bræin Hovig: I’m in my writing and sewing studio in Oslo.
AKT: The moment when I knew that I was watching not only a good film but a really great film was the scene of revelation by the doctor that the lung cancer can spread to the brain and the reactions. [Tomas’s] reaction at that moment is a jolt, sitting next to Anja who is calm because she is more expecting what is coming.
ABH: Maria always wanted to make sure - and I think that’s really interesting - when Anja’s hope is high, Tomas’s hope is low. This is all the way through the film. When she gets the message that actually a couple of people have survived this diagnosis, Anja thinks “oh, some people!” While Tomas thinks “some people? That’s almost none.” I think that’s also a really interesting perspective on hope. That they are never together. They are never in the same hope. So that’s a beautiful example of exactly that.
Isak (Daniel Storm Forthun Sandbye) in pig mask with his mother Anja (Andrea Bræin Hovig) Photo: Manuel Alberto Claro
AKT: During the Christmas week [when Hope takes place], there are these moments of truth that spread out into the different reactions. I’m thinking for instance about little Isak early on saying he has to spy on the family in order to find out anything that is going on. That is just so wonderful. I loved that moment. It’s so true. You have to spy on your family to find out the truth. Andrea, any thoughts on spying?
ABH: Well, in my family I spy on my kids all the time. Too much. I have a teenager and I feel it’s very hard to let her go. So I know what this spying means.
AKT: The story of remarriage in Hope is so interestingly told.
ABH: I remember in the script originally the lines were “I hope you find someone new.” But we did a casting, Maria and I, where I said “I take it back. I don’t ever want you to find someone else.” We brought that with us into the film. Because the reasonable thing to say is I hope you find someone, a new mom for the kids. That’s the reasonable mature thing to say. But we are not always that mature and grown-ups. I like it that I take it back. I think it’s human.
AKT: You made the film before the pandemic. For many people illness has come much closer. Dying is much more on people’s minds. Doctors and health workers were actual doctors in Hope. How was it interacting with somebody who is giving you responses they would give an actual patient?
Andrea Bræin Hovig: “She says to her husband “I’ve been worried for three months” which is quite a long time. It says so much about Anja.” Photo: Manuel Alberto Claro
ABH: I just loved it. Being in the really tiny hospital rooms with the doctors and nurses who are actually doctors and nurses, I didn’t have to translate my colleagues. I didn’t have to do what we all do all the time. Because the same actors can play your mother and your doctor and your daughter. It all floats.
This time I didn’t have to use that tool, this translation tool, that I had to turn off that I know her and I know him. I had never met these people before and they knew so much about anatomy, the medical stuff, everything. I was so eager to learn and I sat there, Anja sat there, saying “Give me all the information that you have!” It became so real, it was wonderful.
AKT: You call it translation when working with actors …
ABH: Not translation in words, not with language, but every time you work with an actor you know from another role or part, another character, you have to turn off that information. I have to work to believe that this is a doctor. But you played my brother six months ago! I didn’t have to do it this time, so it gave something new. The other thing is also good, but this was different and very good for this film.
Anja (Andrea Bræin Hovig) hugging her daughter Julie (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne) Photo: Manuel Alberto Claro
AKT: I want to talk to you about one moment of action and that is the vacuuming scene. This is the most fascinating vacuuming scene I know in film history! Do you like vacuuming?
ABH: I know! Yes. We joked so much about this on set because I loved working with this vacuuming thing as an actor. It just did what I wanted it to do. I had a blast with that vacuum. It’s a slice of life kind of scene because we all do this. Both Maria and I instinctively knew what we were supposed to do with this thing. I got a lot of frustration out on this machine.
AKT: It’ll go down in history next to famous shower scenes …
ABH: … and the vacuuming scene! I will only read scripts where I have a vacuuming scene from now on.
AKT: Did this very profound work of art that you are part of, did it shift anything about your ideas of death?
ABH: Not me. I thought about death since I was three years old. I think about death all the time. I’ve always done. The answer is no. Sorry.
Andrea Bræin Hovig on Anja and Tomas: “They are never in the same hope.” Photo: Manuel Alberto Claro
AKT: No, please, don’t be. We are having this international Zoom conversation and I’m asking you things about death! Apologies! This is what the film triggers.
ABH: I’ve always been thinking about these things. That’s my personality, I can’t help it. It’s a perfect script for me.
AKT: Anja as a character, she takes it in stride. She is so strong in her vulnerability.
ABH: She’s so proud and I love that she’s not shocked. It’s like she knows this and she says to her husband “I’ve been worried for three months” which is quite a long time. It says so much about Anja.
AKT: There is a moment when Anja says “We haven’t lived the same life.” Tomas is complaining that this was really “shabby”. It’s another important reminder how we all have our individual stories we tell. Was that a real priest? Can you talk about that scene?
ABH: He was the only one of the amateurs that I actually knew. He is a priest and he has been working in a prison in Oslo for decades. I don’t know if Maria and I agreed about this, but I think Anja has something in her character in the context that she is supposed to die. I think it’s very human that then you’re not always kind.
When the worst is confirmed, namely that the lung cancer Anja overcame the previous year may have spread to the brain, nothing in their world stays the same. Photo: Manuel Alberto Claro
Maybe some tiny part of you wants to hurt someone. Even if it’s … Because she goes on and on about how Tomas has been working, working, working. And one way to look at it is of course that she’s just telling her version of their life. But I think also - and I thought about this when we shot this scene - that some tiny tiny part of her also wants to hurt her husband. And it’s not reasonable, but I think it’s really interesting and very human.
ABH: Because he is going to live.
Read what Stellan Skarsgård from London had to say on Hope.
Oscar nominations will be announced on Monday, March 15, 2021. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), will honor the best films released between January 1, 2020, and February 28, 2021.
The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network. The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.