Directed by: Joanna Hogg
Written by: Joanna Hogg
Starring: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade, Jaygaan Ayeh
Attempting to be objective as humans is no easy feat because we harness emotions that cause us to make decisions that might not be in our best interest. Especially when focusing on the emotion of love and how it clouds our judgment. This harrowing and sobering story displays what we are willing to ignore for the sake of love and further demonstrates the masterful filmmaking style of Joanna Hogg.
While trying to finish film school and leave her artistic imprint on the world Julie (Honour Swinton Byrne) meets a guy named Anthony (Tom Burke) at a social gathering whom she then subsequently falls in love with. Through the time of their relationship, Julie often picks up the tab when they eat out and Anthony constantly asks for money, which prompts her to rely on her parents to afford this costly lifestyle. It isn’t until she fully integrates into this relationship does she discover that Anthony has a heroin addiction.
This production marks the latest film of Joana Hogg, who stands out as a director with her very distinct style of filmmaking and camera placement. Usually, she leaves the camera in a static position and allows the characters to dictate what the audience can see. It creates a purposeful distance from the characters. Throughout this story, the audience will want to grab Julie by the shoulders and yell at her to discontinue the relationship with Anthony because he exhibits such pompous behavior. We cannot fully feel that full connection because Hogg’s direction does not let us. She does it similarly with Archipelago, and it works splendidly in this film as well.
The thematic threads within the story are potent and it presents itself as Hogg’s best work, which really means a lot. It presents a mirror to its audience and asks what they would do when facing this situation. The Souvenir prompts everyone to reflect on their past relationships and what things we looked past because of the presence of love holding together the relationship. It makes the story much more devastating when knowing this story has autobiographical bits from Hogg’s life and her start as a young filmmaker. For someone who has not been in that type of toxic relationship, it asks for compassion and to understand how rational thinking can be inhibited when love interferes. For the story to truly succeed and buy into the pain and naivete, there needs to be actors that portray it well and this film has it in abundance.
Honour Swinton Byrne makes her feature film debut and makes a mark by making Julie someone that might be difficult to comprehend, but easy to root for. Her journey bears no uniqueness to what others have experienced, as she follows her dream to create something meaningful. No matter the level, everyone wants to do something that has meaning. Julie tries to do that but the relationship she gets wrapped into starts to push against it, which at least caused me to get very defensive for her. It’s not until she has fallen in love with Anthony and that he moves in with her that she realizes his struggle with addiction. The paths in front of her include either leaving him or trying to get him help. The decision to take on that struggle and pain comes with no ease and when she has already fallen in love with him, the conflict only becomes more difficult.
The issues Julie encounters might be undervalued by others as the film has faced criticisms of focusing the “poor plight” of an upper-class girl, during a time where Margaret Thatcher’s politics left others in poverty. It’s true that her financial problems seem to be minor when compared to others but the film wants to focus on the very human issue of the relationship and while Julie never truly struggles for money, it warps into issues that arise with her family. Julie’s mother, Rosalind, excellently portrayed by the always-great Tilda Swinton, who also happens to be the mother of the lead actor, Honour, finds herself in quite the predicament. She’s more of a minor character but the weight she has to hold as she witnesses her daughter make terrible decisions becomes relatable to any parent wishing the best for their child. It asks the audience what they would do if they see their child going down the road that will only cause harm. The simple mannerisms and looks that Tilda Swinton evokes land effectively and make each scene for her character feel vital to the story.
Then we have Anthony, who quickly becomes one of the most aggravating characters within the film that left me screaming at the screen for Julie to leave him. He personifies pompousness, arrogance, and laughably unafraid to ask for many things without an ounce humility. It really shows Tom Burke giving such a good performance, as he continually provokes the audience and makes them question what in the world Julie sees in him. But as the narrative shows, it does not matter what attracted her to him. She simply does and no matter how he treats her, she will always find a way to make things good between them.
From the opening shot to the final scene, The Souvenir focuses on empathy and trying to understand Julie in her quest to be a filmmaker and juggle her tumultuous relationship at the same time. Julie’s situation may be similar to what others have experienced in relationships that border on being abusive and toxic at best. Those same people might have used the same justifications she utilizes throughout the story because of the emotional potency of love that can override common sense. We are not there to judge but to be a friend to Julie as she navigates this very developmental phase in her life. A beautiful and personal story to the filmmaker as she opens her heart to the audience to the struggles she has faced in the past. A brilliant piece of filmmaking that took me through a wide range of emotions.