The Souvenir is a new romantic drama film written and directed by Joanna Hogg. Based loosely on Hogg’s personal experiences, the movie chronicles the turbulent relationship between a young film student in the 1980’s and the complicated but charismatic man to whom she is drawn. It debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema in the Dramatic category.
The main reason that this movie works so well is the personal feeling that Hogg infuses into it. Hogg’s connection to the story is obvious, coming through in every line of dialogue and subtle character development which occurs. Although this a period piece set in the 1980’s (and the film does an excellent job of transporting you back into that time period), it still feels true to life and insightful about modern society, particularly the youth. This is very much an example of slice-of-life cinema, so the plot is very simple and straightforward, and the movie is driven by its realism. However, if you are able and willing (emphasis on willing) to pick up on the subtlety and nuance of the script, you are in for a treat.
This film is by no means meant for everyone. Most will find the slow burn pacing to be a test of their endurance, but the movie is deliberately slow to create a sense of realism, and as such, will easily keep the interest of those with whom the film connects. General audiences will reject it, and even some art house audiences may not appreciate it, but for that last group of people, The Souvenir will be sure to last long in their memory and be one of their favorites of the year.
Hogg does an excellent job of developing the movie’s two lead characters. Julie is a very likable protagonist, being presented in a nuanced and easily-appreciable way. This likability is what will draw you into the story and give the audience their lens into the internal conflict that makes up a majority of the film’s events. Julie’s love interest, Anthony, is a compelling character that is used perfectly to further develop the protagonist. The dichotomy he has between being intensely sympathetic and endlessly frustrating is achieved wonderfully and in a way that feels completely natural.
Over the course of the movie, Hogg addresses some timely themes in a very profound way. The surface-level themes about addiction and feminism are both quite interesting, but it is the film’s commentary on the meaning of art that stands out the most. Given that this is a semi-autobiographical movie about art, the film does go into self-referential territory a handful of times with a good deal of success. A24 has already greenlit a sequel, so it will be interesting to see how Hogg further explores this world.
The cast for this movie was truly amazing. Honor Swinton Byrne does an amazing job in her lead role. She fully inhabits her character, giving a potentially star-making turn if this film gets the attention it deserves come awards season. She and her mother Tilda have great chemistry together playing an on-screen mother-daughter duo, their few scenes together being some of the highlights of the movie. Swinton Byrne also has great chemistry with Tom Burke, who plays her lover in an enjoyable and nuanced way.
On a technical level, this truly is one of the best movies you will see all year. The cinematography is beautiful and hypnotic. Shot partially on film and partially on digital, the movie has a very unique and dynamic feel to it. The filmmakers had quite an eye for composition, many of the shots utilizing mirrors or other objects in the room to extend or otherwise alter the frame. Hogg’s use of sound is also wonderful. The soundtrack, when used, fits quite well, but the uses of diegetic sound and silence are the most impressive in the movie.
Overall, The Souvenir is a masterpiece, in terms of both writing and execution. The level of emotion and passion put into this film is visible, and it will be exciting to see what the next entry has to offer.
The Souvenir is now playing in theaters.