Film Review: Anchor and Hope

The story of a lesbian couple trying to have a baby is well-executed on nearly every front.
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There’s a lovely authenticity to the characters in Anchor and Hope, the latest from writer (along with Jules Nurrish) and director Carlos Marques-Marcet (10.000 Km). It’s true, the setup smacks of indie drollery: A lesbian couple living on a houseboat in a roughened part of England decides to have a baby with the help of a male houseguest. Or, rather, one half of the couple, Eva (Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie), decides this: Her partner, Kat (Natalia Tena), only grudgingly acquiesces, so as not to lose Eva. Complications arise. But there is nothing stereotypical about our Bohemian trio of would-be parents: In their individualized outlooks, in their frightened selfishness, and in their ultimately warm good-naturedness, the characters are all refreshingly real.

Their film about the struggles of conception opens with a death: that of Chorizo, late cat of Eva and Kat. In an effort to cheer Eva, who is more affected by the loss, Kat suggests they buy another pet. But that won’t do; Eva wants to take on greater caregiving responsibilities, and have a child. They’ve had this conversation before. This time, however, Eva won’t allow Kat to dissuade her. When Kat’s Catalonian friend Roger (an absolutely terrific David Verdaguer) arrives and drunkenly agrees to give his seed, Eva finds herself with an unexpected ally, and with the practical means of achieving her end.

Eva is a wonderfully dynamic character. Without brashness or arrogance, while still speaking softly and kindly, she is unyieldingly willful, and honest almost to the point of cruelty. As played by Chaplin, she’s like a fairy with wings of metal: There’s real strength to the way she cuts through things to move herself forward.

The stronger-looking, more masculine Kat is her perfect complement. It’s the butch Kat who calls her lover “baby,” and who falls apart when Eva, hurt by Kat’s lack of interest in becoming a mother, is not at her side. Together, Chaplin and Tena are sexy, comfortable and wholly believable. Add to the mix the funny and talented Verdaguer—who’s like the friendly, faintly unhinged guy you’d meet in a European hostel and have a whirlwind night of adventures with, never to see again—and you have a cast of characters who each transcend the appellation of “character” and seem like a person, like part of a couple or friend group you might know.

Note must be made as well of Merche Blasco, who did the music. The film’s folksy, old-timey country music and torch songs not only seem in keeping with protagonists who are thirty-somethings living on houseboat, they add, when sprinkled with a light touch by Marques-Marcet at just the right moments, an air of poignancy.

It is that light touch which makes Anchor and Hope stand apart. Like so many indie films, it is a slight work, small in scope and focus. But, unlike so many indie films, Anchor and Hope never reaches—and therefore never overreaches—for a sense of profundity. That sense is there all the same: in the cinematography of rushing water that speaks to harrowing events off-screen, and in the shots of stark industrial structures that speak to the social forces surrounding our characters, without their having to indulge in clunky, weighted disquisitions. (Well, Kat does engage in one social disquisition, on the hypocrisies of a previous generation’s hippie lifestyle, but Tena spits out her lines with such ferocity the experience is more comically invigorating than groan-inducing.)

And that lightness of touch is, of course, evident in the believability of Eva, Kat and Roger. There is nothing grand about Anchor and Hope. It is only that which is extraordinarily difficult to make: a simply well-executed film.