the SOUVENIR
(****)

"...arty and-wholly satisfying film..."

One of the Year's Best Looking & Written Films

(082419) "I want your love and I want your revenge. You and me could write a bad romance." —Lady Gaga

The Souvenir is a superior and brilliantly written Indy film about a romance that goes terribly bad. It has received widespread critical acclaim and it won the World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year. The film had a short theatrical run in Chicago, and the DVD was just released on August 6. Devout film aficionados might want to actually buy this one (I already saw it twice and I may view it again).

It is the debut feature of the immensely promising, Joanna Hogg, who already shows an uncommon command of the camera. The film is very autobiographical and draws heavily from the directors’ troubled early life. Although it was made by a newcomer, this film gave me much more satisfaction then recent efforts by more experienced auteur such as Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and Asghaur Farhadi

The Souvenir is one of the best looking films of the year, and it is filled with striking shot compositions that are assembled as carefully as fine balanced pieces of architecture. I especially loved the scene in which the protagonist Julie, is dancing with her boyfriend as we see the whole image inverted in nearby glass as if the deluded innocent young woman is seeing the world in reverse.

The prize winning film is about a naïve and needy London student named Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) from a wealthy family who is attending film school while trying to establish her own identity. Julie meets the much older Anthony (Tom Burke) who impresses her with his superior experience, his sophisticated clothing, and his vast cultural knowledge. But he has some dark secrets and baggage which only seems to only attract her more. He disappears for long periods of time, keeps weird hours and keeps asking for money. She even has to pay whenever they go out for dinner.

The film takes place in the 80s which gives it an excuse to include some catchy New Wave on the soundtrack including a cut by the punk poet, John Cooper Clarke as well as songs by the Psychedelic Furs, Bauhaus, Bauhaus, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, and The Specials. The original music is appropriately somber and atmospheric.

The movie has fine period detail and the writer/director even modeled the main character’s apartment after her own college apartment from the period. The Souvenir compiles only the most important scenes from the fictional romance. It is also enlivened by interesting intellectual conversations. In one of the conversations a haughty leopard skinned film student asks Julie how she hooked up with a heroin user. She pretends to already know, but she is obviously shocked by the revelation about her new boyfriend.

Perhaps the most degrading scene occurs halfway through the film. By this point Julie has become a total enabler. Her boyfriend admits that he swiped everything of value that she owned to pay for drugs. He rationalizes it that he did not tell her because he did not want to upset her. Then he skillfully psychologically manipulates her until she is the one who apologizes for not trusting him.

The Souvenir is named after a painting (the original is at the Art Institute of Chicago) by French artist. Jean-Honoré Fragonard of an elegantly dressed, upper class woman carving a word in a tree accompanied by a dog. Julie is deeply moved by the painting and tells Anthony her thoughts on the work. She thinks of it as a perfect scene of a woman deeply in love carving her boyfriend’s name in a tree. Unfortunately, the imagined idyllic romance sees in the paining does not at all resemble her own sour relationship.

Compared to this leisurely paced and carefully developed film, most of the year’s movies seem like they have been written for and by ADD afflicted three year olds. Unfortunately, many film viewers might not have the patience to get through this arty and (at least for me) wholly satisfying film (The film only got a 44% approval reading from Google users.)
 

Directed & Written by:   Joanna Hogg
Starring:   Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke and Tilda Swinton
Released:   083019
Length:   119 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for some sexuality, graphic nudity, drug material and language

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org
and www.chicagopoetry.org plus look for his recent book Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor.

SOUVENIR ©  2019 BBC Films
Review © 2019 Alternate Reality, Inc.