Bewildering, understated, and eerily enigmatic, these are just some of the ways one can describe The Souvenir, Joanna Hogg’s fourth and possibly best feature to date. Set in London during the 80s, the film tells the story of an insecure film student (Honor Swinton-Byrne) struggling to find her voice in the film world as she enters into a chaotic relationship with a troubled older man (Tom Burke).
Despite her best efforts, film student Julie (Swinton-Byrne) has struggled to convince her peers that her idea about a film set in and around a poor area of Sunderland could be the right fit for her. Living in a flat in Chelsea paid for by her affluent parents, Julie’s life takes a turn for the chaotic when she meets Anthony (Burke), a brainy Oxbridge graduate who works at the Foreign Office. Over the course of their burgeoning relationship, Julie grows consumed by her passion for Anthony who is only too happy to dispense knowledge and advice in the most nonchalant fashion.
Devastating secrets are revealed when Patrick (Richard Ayoade), a pompous and deeply unpleasant artist, and one of Anthony’s oldest friends is invited to Julie’s for dinner, leaving the young woman with more questions than answer about the man she loves.
Hogg offers a slow and reflective account about one’s place in the world in this beautifully measured, funny and at times heartbreaking story. She broaches themes relating to memory, time and the creative process with awe-inspiring precision and impressive attention to detail.
There is a sense as though Hogg not only wanted to share painful events from her youth, but that she wanted to go a step further by transporting us right to the centre of these events in a sort of cathartic exorcism of her most traumatic experiences.
Honor Swinton-Byrne (daughter of the inimitable Tilda Swinton who also stars as Julie’s mother in the film) offers a beautifully disarming and restrained turn as a young woman caught between her love for her art and the passion she has for a man who refuses to be saved.
Tom Burke gives a hugely affecting and visceral performance as the deeply troubled Anthony whom he offers as a both as deeply old fashioned and immeasurably self-destructive in equal measure.
A meticulously executed, beautifully acted and altogether mesmerising study in memory, grief and the passing of time. Hogg may not be be everyone’s cup of tea, and God knows that many have made that very clear in the past, but she has a knack for brilliant precision in the way she approaches each of her subject matters. Another beautifully evocative and decidedly personal account from one of the most enigmatic filmmakers of her generation.