Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this years Sundance Film Festival. The Souvenir feels like Joanna Hogg’s most personal work to date, using the medium of film to explore the intensity and darkness of first love in a way few other films have managed. Creating a palette of emotions that reflect the naivety, intensity, lies and acceptance of relationships that carry darkness and light in equal measure. The wealth and privilege of life no escape from the challenges of love in its many guises. The filmmaking process a reflection of the deepest need to explore the corners of life that still hurt and burn away at the soul.
Set against the backdrop of a changing 1980s Britain; the turbulence of IRA Bombings in London and the growth of class divide on our streets. Julie (Honor Swinton Bryne) is a young filmmaker with a desire to film situations and themes that go beyond her privileged upbringing and life. Her very topics of study a world away from her flat in Knightsbridge, shopping at Harrods and parents of farming wealth. Julie’s naivety at the world around her clashing with her passion to step beyond the life she has. Filmmaking acting as an escape. Yet her creative voice confused in a world of personal experience that has been shielded from the realities of life.
During a house party, Julie meets Anthony (Tom Burke), a charming yet mysterious civil servant. Exuding confidence and arrogance in equal measure, Anthony is a walking enigma, yet utterly captivating to Julie. His knowledge, critical thinking and stature both enthralling and aloof in equal measure.
As their relationship grows, Anthony acts as a sounding board for Julie’s film project ideas, slowly becoming integral to her life; her naivety and his worldly understanding sparking a sexual relationship. A meeting of minds and souls that hides dark personal secrets. Their relationship a mixture of toxicity and true love that envelopes Julie, Anthony and their respective families.
The Souvenir creates a beautiful and haunting character study of a women learning the harsh truths of relationships, love and commitment. A study that has you internally shouting at Julie while also understanding her unconditional need to love. Her frailty and strength exceptionally portrayed by newcomer Honor Swinton Bryne. While the complexity of Anthony’s control is matched equally by a vulnerability and fear that slowly unwinds in front of your eyes in the hands of Tom Burke. An exquisite portrayal of wealth and knowledge in the face of personal darkness and destruction. The emergency escape for both characters shrouded in denial and love.
Family dynamics are beautifully constructed, the urgency and need of parental protection playing against the fear of letting your children go. Allowing them to learn, experience, and understand the pain of life. Tilda Swinton perfectly encapsulating the push and pull of parental protection and love versus independence and pain.
Hogg never rushes the slowly unravelling relationships at play. Allowing for slow burning scenes that take you from joy and humour to frustration and pain in equal measure. The wealth and privilege inherent in the lives of the characters, a paper shield to the events surrounding them.