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TORONTO 2019 Discovery

Maria Sødahl • Director of Hope

“One should never take love for granted”


- We caught up with Norway’s Maria Sødahl to discuss her Toronto-premiered emotionally fragile love story Hope

Maria Sødahl  • Director of Hope
(© Motlys/Agnete Brun)

Norwegian writer-director Maria Sødahl portrays an autobiographical and emotionally fragile love story in her sophomore feature, Hope [+see also:
film review
interview: Maria Sødahl
film profile
. After its world premiere in the Discovery section of the 44th Toronto International Film Festival, we talked to Sødahl about the real-life aspects of the story in her film, the impacts that a tragic event can have, and her experience of casting Andrea Bræin Hovig and Stellan Skarsgård to play the fictional versions of herself and her husband, fellow director Hans Petter Moland.

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Cineuropa: Hope is an autobiographical film; how difficult was it for you to depict such a private and personal story, and what do you expect the audience to get out of it?
Maria Sødahl
: The challenge of writing Hope was to avoid any navel-gazing. More precisely, I had to strike the right balance in terms of sharing material so private that I hardly dared to reveal it even to myself, in order to achieve a story that was personal, as opposed to private. In my writing process, some very naked and raw scenes inevitably came up – situations that are difficult to stay indifferent towards. My idea was to let people into a world where they could identify with actions and emotions that weren’t flattering, but without becoming ashamed. I wanted the theme and the characters to revolve around issues that might challenge the viewer’s perspective on choices they make in their own lives.

How was the experience of casting Andrea Bræin Hovig to play yourself and especially Stellan Skarsgård, who’s a friend of yours and your husband’s, to play your spouse?
At the casting stage, the project was already fictionalised. My plan was never to have two actors “to be” myself or my husband. To avoid this, I made the age gap bigger and changed their professional lives. They are not too far away from who we are, and are still artistic and liberal, but they’re different enough to be free of outer resemblances. Consequently, I simply cast Andrea and Stellan because I thought they were the best and most talented actors for this movie. I thought they would make a fascinating, odd couple. I actually didn’t even see them together in real life, or in front of the camera, before they got their parts. Needless to say, our first meeting, the three of us, was filled with both fear and curiosity.

And how close are the film’s characters to reality?
As for their closeness to what actually happened, I can tell you that many of their actions are pretty similar – apart from the way the actors interpret the situations. I strangely never thought of them as “being us”. Luckily, Stellan and Andrea have sort of reinvented the script and accentuated new details, bringing their own energy and personality to the characters.

Instead of “offering” your characters a typical midlife crisis, which would force them to change their lives, everything happens through a tragic but impactful event. Are these radical changes happening only as a result of this tremendous pressure they are under? Could your heroes have acted before that?
That is actually part of the story when Anja says to Thomas: “Did it really have to take a death sentence to make you do the right thing, when it’s all over?” I guess this specific couple kind of needed this pressure of life and death to be able to act, to be able to forgive each other – which I believe is crucial if you want to learn and experience love after a long life together. Having said that, I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through the threat of having terminal cancer as a quick fix for a dysfunctional relationship.

Do you think that more people will be inspired by this story, or at least be motivated by it?
I’m far from a missionary. But anything we experience that gives us a wake-up call and that reflects our own experiences and emotions can’t hurt.

It is clear that in this complex and dysfunctional relationship between Anja and Tomas, the love is almost gone or it’s ebbing away. Is there still hope for them?
There is always hope, but I’d advise them never to rest on their laurels. One should never take love for granted.

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