Runtime: 120 Minutes
Director: Joanna Hogg
Writer: Joanna Hogg
Stars: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, Frankie Wilson, Janet Etuk
By Emily Murray
Writer and director Joanna Hogg has always been known for her mysterious, creative and thoughtful films, but “The Souvenir” (2019) is her best yet. A tender tale of young love, it is Hogg’s most personal film to date, based on her own experiences at film school and dating an older, secretive and troubled man.
You can feel this personal touch throughout, in the gentle yet unflinching way Hogg’s camera follows Honor Swinton Byrne’s Julie, the young woman at the centre of this story.
Swinton Byrne is truly outstanding as Julie, and it is hard to believe this is her first starring role. Shy and ambitious, the quiet Julie quickly falls for Tom Burke’s charming and extravagant Anthony, unable to resist his passion for culture and a captivating smile.
Not everything is as it appears though, and the tension builds as Anthony begins to continually ask his young girlfriend for money, becoming more erratic and manipulative.
During one pivotal scene, featuring a cameo from the ever wonderful and hilarious Richard Ayoade, Julie’s perspective on her relationship and Anthony is turned upside down. Julie’s smile begins to waver, her eyes become unsure and you can see the young student trying to put together the pieces in her mind.
What She Said:
“Tender and charming, but the bitter sting elevates it to greatness.”
Although aware of Anthony’s behaviour, which spirals further out of control, Julie continues to return to him, out of love, loneliness and wanting to help him. While discussing the film with my friends one of them remarked that it ‘didn’t make any sense’ as he couldn’t understand why Julie didn’t just leave Anthony the moment events took a turn.
For me, though this is missing the point of the story; love can be a painful experience, and especially first love. This agony lingers over the reserved Julie, with the anguish coming out in both her eyes and what goes unsaid.
What She Said:
“A visceral, open-hearted exploration of grief and the implacability of loss. Led by extraordinary performances this may well be Hogg’s best film so far.”Linda Marric, HeyUGuysTwitter: @Linda_Marric
Julie, Swinton Byrne’s performance and Hogg’s script are all very restrained, but this actually makes the film more powerful, emotional and ultimately devastating. And while there is plenty of aching, there are equal amounts of joy as Julie and Anthony relish their happy moments together, listening to music, holidaying to Venice and discussing art.
It is acknowledged that both heartbreak and romance are a part of coming-of-age, and it is an assessment done in an intimate way, with Hogg examining how she as a young woman came to realise this. “The Souvenir Part II” has already been shot and is on its way, and I look forward to seeing how Hogg explores these themes further, whilst being at the top of her game.
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BFI Player: Rent
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