Anja (Andrea Bræin Hovig) has just celebrated the success of her latest dance production but something isn’t right. She’s been in remission from lung cancer since last Christmas. But now she’s suffering from debilitating headaches and her eyesight has gotten so bad she can no longer read. When she visits the doctor and gets an MRI, she’s given terrible news. Her cancer is back in the form of a large tumor in her brain. It’s treatable but incurable and she will soon die of the disease.
At first she keeps this a secret with her distant and workaholic husband Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård). The news draws them together while at the same time the problems they’ve endured throughout their 20 year union come bubbling up to the surface. Anja struggles with how to tell her blended family of children, her dad and her friends. We follow her and Tomas as Anja puts into place her plans for her final treatments and her final days with those she loves most. Through it all she must hold on to a glimmer of hope that everything will be okay.
Directed by Maria Sødahl and based on a true story, Hope is a heart-wrenching film that will leave you emotionally devastated. We’re seated right next to Anja on her roller coaster ride of emotions. We feel her fear, her pain and her paranoia. End-of-life situations are complicated and messy. I love that Sødahl’s film doesn’t tie up everything neatly into a big bow. Instead she allows the viewer to see the bad and the good and every shade in between. Hovig is more than capable to take us on her character’s journey and delivers a breathtaking performance. Skarsgård’s solemn delivery pairs beautifully with Hovig’s. It’s through his tender approach and his support of Anja that we have some emotional foundation.
The story is told over Christmas and New Year’s when the holidays delay access to specialists and puts pressure on Anja to make the season a happy one for her children. I thought the time frame to be an ingenious touch which elevated the stakes in Anja’s story. Hope is a film you may want to avoid and I almost did myself. But I’m so glad I gave over 2 hours of my life so a beautiful film could break my heart.
Hope had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Discovery series.
Update: Hope will have a virtual theatrical release on April 16th, 2021.
When is the best time to come out to your family? As Lauren (Jenna Laurenzo) is about to find out, Thanksgiving is NOT one of those times.
Lauren has been dating Hailey (Caitlin Mehner) and when things get serious she decides its time for her family to meet her girlfriend. The problem is Lauren’s family doesn’t know she’s gay. When Lauren arrives ahead of Hailey at her family’s home for Thanksgiving, she surprised by her roommate Austin (Brandon Micheal Hall). He’s been invited to celebrate the holiday with the family and Lauren’s mom Rose (Deirdre O’Connell) and dad George (Kevin Pollak) are convinced Lauren and Austin are a couple. Austin, who doesn’t quite mind the confusion, gives a few half-hearted attempts to rectify the situation but caves when confronted by an irate George. When Lauren tries to tell her parents the truth things start to spiral out of control. And that’s when the rest of the members of this wacky yet lovable family arrive.
And what a motley crew of characters they are. Lauren’s loser brother John (Davram Stiefler) has the hots for Hailey and won’t be persuaded to leave her alone. Lauren’s Grandpa (Bruce Dern) is the first to find out that Lauren and Hailey are a couple and Grandma Josephine (Cloris Leachman) is convinced Hailey is Lauren’s side dish and Austin is her main course. Aunt Maggie (Elaine Hendrix) just wants everyone to appreciate her artichoke dip, cancer survivor uncle Ken (Rob Moran) is just happy to be there and their overly-hormonal daughter Jessica (Jordyn DiNatale) is hot for Austin. And pothead uncle Mike (Steve Guttenberg) sets the basement on fire and the whole family is uprooted to Rose’s motel for Thanksgiving dinner. And all the while poor Hailey is stuck in an awkward limbo of staying hopeful but losing faith that Lauren will make her big announcement. In the chaos, Lauren must come to terms with her sexuality and face some harsh truths about herself.
Lez Bomb is written and directed by filmmaker Jenna Laurenzo who also stars as Lauren. This is her feature film debut and her first film, a short called Girl Night Stand, went viral. This multi-generational comedy is quirky, off-beat and all around charming. There are plenty of side-splitting moments and the humor is perfectly paced. The story itself would be ridiculous if it wasn’t grounded in some very real emotions. This film has a lot of heart. I loved the tender, somber moments in the film. For example, when its revealed Grandpa promised to pray with the rosary daily if his son Ken survived cancer was particularly touching. I also appreciated the scene when Lauren talks to her mom Rose about how she struggles with her sexuality and the inconvenient truth that it’s just easier to live a lie than to come out. In an interview with Gravitas Ventures, Laurenzo said,
“The mother-daughter story for me is the heart of the movie… Telling my mom that I was gay was one of the most challenging things because she knows me the best, and while I was afraid of disappointing her, I was equally afraid she’d be upset with herself, for missing it. But it was really me, who was not ready to be honest with myself… We often assume it’s the external pressures that make coming out difficult, and while that is also a factor, sometimes it’s the inner struggle that needs to be reconciled. That theme extends beyond sexuality.”
The film’s resolution happens a little too quickly and cleanly. I felt like there needed a few more minutes of drama before it wrapped up. Otherwise this was an incredibly enjoyable movie. Highly recommended!
Lez Bomb releases in theaters tomorrow November 9th and on VOD.
dir. Pablo Trapero
Starring: Martina Gusman, Bérénice Bejo, Edgar Ramírez, Graciela Borges
Set in a country estate in Argentina, The Quietude tells the story of two sisters Mia (Martina Gusman) and Eugenia (Bérénice Bejo). Eugenia travels back from Paris to The Quietude, the family’s expansive estate, when their father suffers a debilitating stroke. As the two pick up where they left off secrets start to bubble up to the surface: a pregnancy, extra marital affairs, fraud, toxic relationships and secret papers. This is more than just a story about rich people behaving badly. It’s about a family delving into a state of chaos as everything begins to unravel.
Pablo Trapero’s film takes the viewer on a wild ride they don’t even know they’re on. The story has several twists and turns and it borders on the edge of melodrama but never crosses the line into soap opera territory. The sexuality in the film is at times titillating and confusing. The gaze of the male director was palpable. There is a scene with the two sisters that to me felt more like a male fantasy than something that would occur between the characters. Gusman and Bejo (best known for The Artist) play their parts beautifully and in a rare instance in the history of cinema, they actually look like sisters. The standout performance is delivered by veteran actress Graciela Borges who plays the deeply tormented matriarch of the family.
Throughout the film, the family’s chaotic state is represented through reoccurring electrical outages that cause the lights to flicker and the music to screech to a stop. The Quietude is filled with absurd moments that become almost humorous. There is so much built up tension that at the film’s biggest climactic scene the audience let out a laugh. Less so because the scene was funny but because we needed to let something out.
The Quietude is dark and mysterious. While the male gaze was a bit heavy handed, I still felt like the female characters were interesting and the leads had some wonderful moments to shine.
Trapero’s film has been picked up by Columbia Pictures but no US release date has been announced. His film The Clan is available to watch on Netflix.
I attended a special press and industry screening of The Quietude at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.