‘Hope’ Review: In Sickness and in Health

For audiences seeking escapism, this may not be the best time to tout a movie about terminal illness. Yet it might help to know that “Hope,” a largely autobiographical drama from the Norwegian writer and director Maria Sodahl, is neither miserabilist nor sappily sentimental. Instead, it’s an almost brutally honest observation of a calcified relationship forced to adjust to a terrifying new reality.

Anja (Andrea Braein Hovig) and Tomas (Stellan Skarsgard) have a comfortable Oslo home, six children between them and a two-decade domestic partnership. A talented choreographer, Anja has neglected her career while Tomas, a theater director, has worked and traveled tirelessly. By the time Anja learns that the lung cancer she endured the previous year has metastasized to her brain and is likely incurable, the two have drifted so far apart that the survival of the relationship is as uncertain as her prognosis.

“We couldn’t even stick together when times were good,” she reminds Tomas, bitterly. The diagnosis has freed her to speak the unspeakable, her candor leaving Tomas stricken and too often lost for words. But Skarsgard, filling his heavy features with pain and bewilderment, gives the character’s impassivity an unusual eloquence. And as nervy medical appointments alternate with bustling family celebrations (the movie unfolds over Christmas and New Year), the couple’s emotional distance remains a heartbreaking constant.

Self-centered without being at all self-serving, Anja’s story has the perfect medium in Hovig, whose huge eyes and mobile mouth draw us in. Raw, melancholy and unquestionably mature, “Hope” understands that some wounds may never be healed. Even so, it takes a brave movie to hold that stance until its very last second.

Not rated. In Norwegian, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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