British filmmaker and screenwriter Joanna Hogg might seem like an unknown name to American audiences and even some film lovers, but the director has been crafting films for more than thirty years. Her feature film Unrelated, starring Tom Hiddleston, landed her breakthrough success at the 2007 London film festival, but it is her latest film that will make her one of the most talked about directors of 2019.
Premiering at Sundance earlier this year and winning the 2019 World Cinema Dramatic prize, The Souvenir is entirely different from Hogg’s previous filmography as it serves as a semi-autobiography of the director’s life based off her memoirs as a film student. To be specific, the story is set in the early 1980s and focuses on a timid young film woman named Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) who has great ambition to become a filmmaker but has yet to find the exact inspiration to propel her work to greatness. That is until a fateful encounter with a charismatic older gentleman named Anthony (Tom Burke) at a flat party. Anthony seems to have the answers to Julie’s problems as the two share philosophies on life, love, and art throughout consecutive meetings until their relationship blossoms into a full-on romance. Unfortunately, Anthony is not as trustworthy as he initially let on; unbeknownst to Julie, he has a dark secret that will uproot her entire posh way of living.
What immediately sets The Souvenir apart from other films at the festival is the gorgeous cinematography that genuinely elevates the British scenery into that of a late period piece. Several of the scenes almost feel like a homage to the late Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy, precisely Three Colours: Red which also centers on a young woman with similar mannerisms as Julie.
Another thing that is utmostly noticeable is the excellent acting on display from the cast, mainly that of Honor Swinton Byrne, daughter of Tilda Swinton, who co-stars with her as Julie’s caring and concerned mother. Byrne handles her role with a delicate balance, always knowing when to give the right look of disbelief or affection. Her performance is so captivating that one would be surprised to learn that this is her first acting role in a feature film.
Unfortunately, the praise comes to a halt because the actual story is more mundane than you would be led to believe. The Souvenir is yet another story about a young woman deceived by an older man. Because the events are directly from the director’s memoir, The Souvenir may be alluring from a psychological point of view, but as a film watching experience, it can prove tiresome as the viewer can predict the events that unfold within the film from half a mile away.
Of course, great stories have and will continue to tell of the innocence of youth and the love corrupted by older conniving men and women, but The Souvenir lacks the focus and narrative to rise above its predictability. The film almost feels like an outlet for Hogg to finally let out her inner ghost and demons in the form of a dull two-hour movie. Recently acquired by A24 for a May 17th release in America, The Souvenir will more than likely capture fans’ attention with its cinematography and cast, but its mundane story of a posh woman may make it harder to connect with when compared to other summer A24 distributed films, such as The Last Black Man in San Francisco or The Farewell.
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