The French have a remarkable ability to present formulaic romantic comedies that affectionately abide by the tropes of the genre at hand, in unique, creative ways. Whether it be Up For Love or Love is in the Air, or even Heartbreaker and Populaire, they tell familiar stories in a resourceful manner, and Bavo Defurne’s Souvenir is very much cut from the same cloth – yet there’s a distinct comfortability to these movies that make for congenial cinema.
Isabelle Huppert plays Liliane Cheverny, who went by the stage name of Laura, coming in second place to ABBA in the Eurovision Song Contest. Labelled a has-been, she now works at a pate factory, which is where she meets the opportunist young boxer Jean Leloup (Kévin Azais), who recognises her instantly given his father was such a big fan of her work. Wanting nothing more than to convince her to get back on stage and rejuvenate her singing career – she is reluctant to adhere to his wishes, though as the pair fall for one another she is given a new lease of life, and contemplates giving it one last shot.
Souvenir is a film about two people who always seem to come second in life, perennial runners-up who finally have the chance to come out on top, and triumph in love. It’s a meticulously well-crafted endeavour by Defurne, who uses imagery in a striking way, particularly the colour red, in a similar vein to how Pedro Almodovar did in Julieta. There’s one scene where Liliane and Jean are in the bath together and he asks her what words come to mind when he says ‘red’ and she replies with ‘action, courage, confidence, vitality and passion’ – all words that can best describe our protagonist.
The film could well be a rather average one had it not been for the nuance provided by the irrepressible Huppert. She gives roles such depth and doesn’t even need to say (or sing) a word. Azais impresses too, with an endearing innocence and blissful optimism which is so well-judged, and contagious too, not only rubbing off on his new love interest, but the viewer. There is a poignant undercurrent to this piece too, as Liliane is a sad character damaged by the media representation of her, showing just how pernicious language attributed to her can be to her psyche, as people so casually confront her fall from grace.
Her singing voice is somewhat ordinary too, which adds to the film’s charm and adds an authenticity and relatablity to proceedings, while the songs are perfectly crafted, believable as Eurovision records. Souvenir is a film that is impossible to dislike, and while it’s unlikely to be at the top of anyone’s charts, there will be very few nil pois’ awarded to this one.
Souvenir is released on June 23rd