Directed by: Joanna Hogg
Starring: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton
Genre: Drama, Romance, Mystery
Release date: 17 May 2019
Running Time: 119 Minutes
The Souvenir is a 2019 American-British drama film, written and directed by Joanna Hogg. It stars Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, and Tilda Swinton.
It had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2019. It was released in the United States on May 17, 2019, by A24, and in the United Kingdom on August 30, 2019, by Curzon Artificial Eye.
The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2019. Prior to, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired U.S. and U.K. distribution rights to the film, respectively. It was released in the United States on May 17, 2019, and in the United Kingdom on August 30, 2019.
The film received critical acclaim upon its premiere. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 95%, based on 55 reviews, with an average rating of 8.64/10. The website’s critics consensus reads, “Made by a filmmaker in command of her craft and a star perfectly matched with the material, The Souvenir is a uniquely impactful coming of age drama.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 95 out of 100, based on 11 critics, indicating “universal acclaim”.
Music supervised by Ilona Cheshire (Score X Hymns Productions) and Air-Edel recording studios.
The Souvenir: Movie Trailer
The Souvenir: Movie Review
“The Souvenir” is one of my favorite movies of the year so far, but I almost want to keep it a secret. Partly because it’s the kind of film — we all have a collection of these, and of similar books and records, too — that feels like a private discovery, an experience you want to protect rather than talk about. A direct message like this, beamed from another person’s sensibility into your own sensorium, isn’t meant to be shared.
That other person, in this case, is Joanna Hogg, who wrote and directed. (Her previous features are “Exhibition”, “Archipelago” and “Unrelated”, all very much worth seeking out.) But there’s also something specific to the manner, mood and subject of her tale of amour fou and artistic aspiration in early ’80s London that invites discretion. “The Souvenir” feels like a whispered confidence, an intimate disclosure that shouldn’t be betrayed because it isn’t really yours.
There’s an interesting paradox here: a movie that feels like it was meant for you alone and also like none of your business. Watching the oblique scenes unfold, at first mysteriously and then with ever greater force and clarity, you might believe yourself more of an eavesdropper than a confidant, as if you were sitting at the next table at the ridiculously fancy tearoom where Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and Anthony (Tom Burke) have come on a date.
Are we sure they’re dating? (Julie’s mother, played by Byrne’s real-life mother, Tilda Swinton, persists in supposing otherwise.) What exactly is their deal? Julie’s is that she’s a film student, trying to put together an ambitious, somewhat vague-sounding thesis set in the northern port city of Sunderland. It’s about a boy named Tony who loses his mother, though the more we hear about the project the less clear it seems. This is partly because the fictional Tony is often competing for Julie’s attention with the actual Anthony.
We surmise that Anthony is at least a few years older than Julie and also different from the relaxed, racially and sexually diverse group of friends and schoolmates who gather at her apartment to drink, smoke and listen to records. Anthony seems, at least at first glance, to be from what the British would call a rather posh background. His ironical, world-weary way of talking and his chalk-striped suits and monogrammed slippers suggest a privileged upbringing. Julie, by contrast, puts out a decidedly middle-class vibe, including the way she self-consciously checks her own privilege in conversations with her professors.
But these first impressions are soon revealed to be completely backward. Anthony’s father (James Dodds) is a former shipyard worker and an art school graduate who lives with the rest of the family in cozy, rural Bohemian dishevelment. Julie’s parents, meanwhile (the marvelous James Spencer Ashworth plays her father), reek of old, landed money, with aristocratic manners, solidly but not stridently conservative views and enough cash to subsidize their daughter’s student lifestyle in a comfortable Knightsbridge duplex.
Anthony claims to work for the Foreign Office. A note of skepticism is in order for the simple reason that, as Julie slowly discovers, he has a habit of lying about nearly everything. It’s not his only habit. I hesitate to mention this — less because of spoiler sensitivity than because of a strange impulse to protect the privacy of fictional beings — but he’s also a heroin addict.
And now, like Julie, I’m inclined to make excuses. Not to deny or minimize the increasingly obvious fact of Anthony’s drug use – as Julie does for as long as she can – but to dispel certain false impressions that the mention of it might leave behind. There is a way of describing “The Souvenir” at the level of plot that makes it sound interesting and absorbing but also conventional: another chronicle of addiction and codependency, another cautionary fable of a smart woman making a foolish choice, another period drama celebrating a wilder time.
It sort of is all of that, but it is also emphatically not that at all. The title refers to a small, exquisite painting by the 18th-century French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard that Anthony and Julie behold on one of their maybe-dates. It depicts a young woman, sharply scrutinized by her pet dog, carving letters into the trunk of a tree. “She’s very much in love,” Anthony says with suave certainty, and perhaps he’s right. But there’s a lot more going on in the picture – and in the moving picture that shares its name – than that simple declaration would suggest. The woman is making a mark and putting down a marker, declaring her own presence with a mixture of shame and audacity, impulsiveness and deliberation.
Julie isn’t quite so bold, or so embarrassed. She does love Anthony, of course, and she sacrifices a great deal for him without quite realizing what she’s doing. Over the span of the film – it’s hard to know exactly how much time is passing, which is of course exactly how the passage of time can feel – her friends slip away, and the work that had seemed so urgent feels a bit more remote. But the interplay of forces in Julie’s life is subtle, as is the balance, in her own temperament, between decisiveness and passivity.
Byrne is a revelation, and Julie is an embodiment of the awkwardness and heedless grace of young adulthood almost without precedent in the movies. Byrne is, of course, the child of one of the greatest actresses alive, but her own talent is of an entirely different order. The point of Julie is that she’s a half-formed creature who we’re watching take shape, partly through the development of her own nature and partly under the influence of external forces. With her soft features and hesitant diction, Byrne gives Julie’s confusion a sensual, almost metaphysical, intensity. For the duration of “The Souvenir,” nothing in the world is more important than what will happen to her.
Or, to adjust the grammar a bit, what will turn out to have happened. This movie is a memory piece, after all (with a sequel in the works), set at a time of I.R.A. bombings and ascendant Thatcherism. It’s also a coming-of-age story, implying a backward-looking perspective of maturity. The grain of the film (David Raedeker is the director of photography) shrouds the action in a delicate caul of nostalgia, communicating an ache that Julie can’t yet feel but that we can see forming inside her. This is one of the saddest movies you can imagine, and it’s an absolute joy to watch.