The Souvenir (2019)

The Souvenir
Director: Joanna Hogg
Writer: Joanna Hogg
Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade
Seen on: 3.7.2020

Film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) meets Anthony (Tom Burke), a government employee. They go on a date and she is quickly charmed by him. After her roommate moves out, Anthony asks if he can stay with her for a while and their budding romance soon turns into an intense relationship. But the more Julie hears about Anthony, the more doubts start creeping in if Anthony really is the man she thinks he is.

The Souvenir is a beautifully acted and shot film that stays engaging throughout. I enjoyed it, but I did not completely love it.

The film poster showing Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and Anthony (Tom Burke) dressed up and reflected in a dark surface

The Souvenir is basically a coming-of-age story, only that its protagonist is not a teenager anymore (though it hasn’t been long that she was). It chronicles her growth from a very sheltered, privileged woman to a more hardened, realistic one through the experience of hardship – in this case a very difficult relationship with a drug addict.

I’m a little conflicted about that trajectory, I have to admit. I mean, does growing up really have to mean growing harder? Especially since it seems implied that Julie becomes a better filmmaker because of the drama in her life (at least after it’s over). Not that I think that it’s awesome to stay in a bubble of privilege and never looking beyond, and Julie’s attempts to even talk about the film she wants to make about a poor family are definitely such that it would not have been good had she made it without her own experience if hardship. Still, I would have liked a bit more nuance here. Space for Julie to remain soft. At least the film definitely acknowledges that you can’t make good art while the tragedy is happening, but I would also contest that you need tragedy to have happened to make good art.

Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) sitting in an ornate bed.

In any case, that’s not really the focal point of the film anyway. It’s more about Julie and her relationship with Anthony and here, the film really shines. Not only are Byrne Swinton and Burke great leads with strong presences and good chemistry with each other, I really appreciated the take on drug addiction here that shows that there can very well be a surface level of functionality to a drug addict, even when they’re taking hard drugs like heroin.

The film also looks extremely nice – from set design to cinematography. All of that bodes very well for the sequel that is apparently in the works – I’ll be interested to see where they go from here.

Anthony (Tom Burke) looking dishevelled.

Summarizing: Strong.

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