Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton
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…impeccably acted albeit slow-burning take on young-adulthood…
Subjectiveness is the mark of all great artwork. It is a trait that draws from the experience of the individual to create a personal connection with the piece. It can be provocative, mundane, or in the case of 2019 drama The Souvenir, provide an introspective look into an abusive relationship; where one half observes sadness and the other half sees determination.
Living an existence mostly free of hardships, afforded to her by her privileged upbringing, young film school-student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) dreams of a life abound in art and culture.
Her relationship with the much-senior art enthusiast Anthony (Tom Burke) grants the budding filmmaker access to a world filled with art galleries and invitations to dinner parties featuring Britain’s cultural elite.
With these lavish experiences comes all of the debauchery associated with the art scene. The result culminating in a troubling lifestyle that threatens to derail the ambitious Julie from her dream of becoming a filmmaker.
The Souvenir is poignant in its approach, detailing the complex and confusing happenings of Julie and Anthony’s toxic relationship. Julie’s forgiving and generous nature becomes Anthony’s opportunity to exploit her both financially and emotionally. Anthony’s beguiling demeanour buries deep-seated destructive tendencies and is something which director-writer Joanna Hogg captures with a haunting intensity.
Hogg displays an unhurried sense of exploration in her filmmaking style. A style which focuses on being contemplative, ambience focused (the mute-coloured set design is first class) and applying literary sensibilities to scene transitions.
Hogg invests heavily in the establishment of Julie and Anthony’s relationship to the point of being ponderous. The Souvenir requires the audience to sit patiently and observe Julie and Anthony’s relationship as though it were a static painting in a gallery. It showcases Hogg’s bold commitment to authenticity yet comes at the expense of dramatic stakes for the first half of the film.
Hogg does come through with the goods in the later part of The Souvenir, building to an emotional walloping that compensates for the film’s extended setup. She demonstrates an impressive understanding of catharsis, both raw and powerful, that may likely spark conversation about the Writer Director this awards season.
Swinton Byrne demonstrates a maturity beyond her years, capturing the innocent curiosity of a young adult looking for connection. She exhibits a hardened shell brought about by a taxing relationship, in a similar fashion to Carey Mulligan’s performance in An Education.
Burke delivers an astoundingly subdued performance, bringing to life an irredeemable character with just as many attractive qualities as he does abusive. He is charming and controlling, vulnerable yet untrustworthy, and a dangerous influence on the impressionable Julie.
Tilda Swinton, who is Byrne’s mother in the film and in real life, rounds out the remaining principal cast. Her appearances – often used as a mode of financial support to Julie – come in short supply yet never fail to leave an impression.
With its artistic sensibilities coupled with dilatory pacing that verges on indulgent, The Souvenir is a divisive piece of filmmaking that will prove a slog for mainstream audiences. For others looking for an impeccably acted albeit slow-burning take on young-adulthood, The Souvenir – like the title implies – will be a stunning keepsake.