SXSW FILM REVIEW: ‘Anchor and Hope’ Revels in the Pains of Love

Movie romances tend to be iffy endeavors. Most tend to lean into the idea of escapism, giving audiences an idealized depiction that allows them to life out their wildest romantic or melodramatic fantasies vicariously through the characters. They’re saccharine endeavors that tend to ignore the ugly side of love, the side that hurts and leaves us broken as we try to figure out how we got from the person we were to the person we are now.

There’s a sort of alchemy that takes place in the hearts and minds of a beloved, transmuting us into something new, even if that something is never something we wanted to be. If we aren’t careful, that process can shocking to wake up to. One day you have a crush and the next day you’re buried in bills, family, and life. One day you’re not the person who once fell in love. Where does that leave you?

Anchor and Hope is a film that takes place within this realization. It is a beautiful meditation on the gut punch we call love, in all its heartbreak and revelry. Co-writer/director Carlos Marques-Marcel has captured the ugly side of love to craft a deeply meaningful film that explores what it means to be a family, and what it means to be an individual, and how often those aspects can lead us in separate directions.

Oona Chaplin and Natalia Tena star as Eva and Kat, a couple who is toying with the idea of started a family together. Eva is ready for a child now, eager to bring a new life into the world and share with it the unique perspectives and love she and her longtime girlfriend can offer. Kat, on the other hand, is content with their life as is, but willingly goes along with the idea to make Eva happy. The two find a surrogate in the form of Kat’s Barcelonan friend Roger (David Verdaguer), and together the three set out to explore just, exactly, it is that forms a family.

Both Chaplin and Tena emerge as incredibly versatile performers capable of intricate portrayals of the human experience. Both actresses are stunning to watch, and their chemistry is simply magical. (Indeed, it makes one wonder what might have happened had the two gotten some facetime together on Game of Thrones.) Theirs feels like a real love, the kind that is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever fallen into the trap of mindless contentedness.

Do they love each other or have they just gotten used to their presence? That’s the risk that comes with opening yourself up to a loving relationship. The reason most stories end with a newly becoupled pair riding off into the sunset is because, deep down, we all know about the pains they’re set to endure in their happily ever after. The awkward silences, the passive fighting, the cooling of once intense passions. Anchor and Hope, however, leans into this, allowing us to explore the true, often painful, nature of romance.

Though sometimes the film does feel like it doesn’t have as much to say as it wants, it rises above its faults on the strengths of Chaplin and Tena’s performances. Chaplin in particular stuns, playing Eva with an emotional vulnerability that’s never portrayed as a liability. She is a woman who knows what she wants, and uses that to find her strength, everyone else be damned. She is often mesmerizing to watch and fills Eva with intense relatability.

Even with its imperfections, Anchor and Hope is still a captivating character study that isn’t afraid to explore the darker corners of love. While often painful, it still manages to be uplifting, reminding us that love isn’t always wrapped up in a bow and that happily ever after is a lie we tell our children (and ourselves) to keep them happy. Real life is raw, dirty, and sometimes it hurts. So it is with Anchor and Hope.

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