Director: Joanna Hogg
Writer: Joanna Hogg
Starring: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade
Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is a raw and intimate coming of age story about film student Julia (Honor Swinton Byrne), and her relationship with Anthony (Tom Burke). It feels very naturalistic and almost like you are watching a collage film made by a group of students, who are just documenting their own lives. Despite the authentic style to the film, it still fails to be as poignant or emotional as it wants to be.
Julia is in film school with the idea of making a film about a mother and son who live in Sunderland. She wants to capture a life that is far removed from her own, as she lives in a Knightsbridge flat and comes from a well-off family. Her life changes when she meets Anthony, someone who opens her eyes to a different style of life. Their relationship almost derails her school life as she is barely seen in class and pushes Julia to rely on her mother’s hand outs more often, causing her friends and professors to worry about her.
The Souvenir is a story of two halves. On one side there’s the story of Julia trying to learn the craft of filmmaking, struggling to find her voice, and feeling the pressure of everything. On the other side there’s the borderline toxic relationship with Anthony, who you just want her to get rid of as soon as possible. The majority of the film focuses on the relationship side of things, which is a real shame because the filmmaking side is much more interesting.
Anthony is a drug user, who puts forward an arrogant and charming persona to win everyone over. You can completely understand why Julia would fall for someone like him, but almost every scene between the two feels very cold and detached. There’s nothing about it that really gets you emotionally. There’s next no to chemistry between them, with both actors giving very stilted and awkward performances. Even the big moments towards the end don’t really land or make you feel anything.
The best moments of the film is when Julia is in film school working on her project. There’s a grand sense of Julia being overwhelmed by everything around her. There’s a moment where they’re about to shoot, and the actress asks Julia what she should do with the thing she’s holding, she tries to explain, and then the cameraman interrupts to say it won’t be in the shot anyway, then someone else comes over and asks more questions. It’s chaotic and you feel just as out of your depth as Julia does. Sadly, those moments are few and far between with most of the story focusing on the doomed relationship instead.
The Souvenir is definitely unique, and Hogg’s portrayal of growing up is very honest and raw, but it just doesn’t connect in any meaningful way. It feels more of a slog to get through than it should do and isn’t worth the two hours just to watch the few good moments.
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