- Film & TV
- 03 Sep 19
Emotionally honest account of abusive relationship.
James Frey, take note: it is entirely possible to tell a semi-autobiographical tale without deceiving people. British writer-director Joanna Hogg’s fourth feature is an auto-fictional film, depicting her experiences as a young woman living in Knightsbridge in the 1980s. Honor Swinton Byrne plays protagonist Julie, a soft-spoken young woman from the British upper classes. Julie is self-conscious about her privilege, aware of her sheltered naiveté, intimidated by the worldly life experiences of her peers. Her bubble has shielded her from life and creative material, and her creative voice is hesitant. Even as an IRA bomb goes off mere streets away, she is safely cocooned in her parent-funded apartment, struggling to write anything on her typewriter.
It’s Julie’s insecurity that attracts her to Anthony (Tom Burke), a slightly older man who oozes patronising, mansplaining arrogance from every pore – though, as with all the action, his cruelty is portrayed with a deliberately plain, banal realism. Julie falls for his technique of complimenting and dismissing her, before eventually gaslighting and lying to her – often in service of his spiralling heroin addiction.
Like all of Hogg’s work, there’s an intriguing refusal to bend to convention, form and chronological storytelling. While this style achieves The Souvenir’s primary aim of depicting the intensity of first loves and destructive relationships, it holds a meta power, too. Using the intense, oblique language of memory to recreate her experience as a film student, we also see how Hogg came to discover this language of filmmaking. While Anthony is often shot in still, distant shots that echo his emotionally cold declarations of objective truth, Julie is portrayed in intimate, reactive close-up. Meanwhile, in film class, she tries to learn how to frame experiences, how to portray the experience and aftermath of unseen horrors.
The performances and cinematography are strikingly understated, so the story’s impact subtly festers rather than announcing itself. Impeccable performances from Byrne’s real-life mother (Tilda Swinton) as Julie’s mother, and director Richard Ayoade as a filmmaker, add to the meta layers while adding to the narrative. An emotionally honest, artistically complex, subtly unnerving piece of work.
Directed by Joanna Hogg. Starring Honor Swinton-Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade. 114 mins. In cinemas NOW. 4/5