The Souvenir: Film Review

The Souvenir got rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, so I went in expecting brilliance and I honestly don’t see what all the fuss is about.

Honor Swinton Byrne stars as Julie, an aspiring film student. The film follows Julie as she embarks on a relationship with an older man – Anthony (Tom Burke) – who turns out to be a heroin addict. Their relationship gets increasingly difficult and complicated as he moves into her flat, steals from her and begs her for money, all the while she is unable to focus on film school and her feature project.

Firstly, I have credit Joanna Hogg for creating such a personal, semi-autobiographical piece of work. The premise sounds poignant and moving, but I just didn’t feel anything because of the way the narrative was told.

Hogg seems to keep us at a distance, never letting us get too close to Julie to find out who she really is. Anthony is an enigma, totally mysterious, so we don’t get to know much about him except when he’s pontificating about something. That means I didn’t invest in their relationship. For the longest time, I couldn’t tell if they were lovers or just friends living together because the chemistry just wasn’t there. I didn’t feel like they loved each other so I just wanted Julie to dump him and focus on her career. I would have cared about them and the outcome more if their romance felt more tangible.

It doesn’t help that it is told in a very vague and frustrating way. It seems to give us brief snapshots of their relationship rather than giving us details about how they met, how Julie is feeling etc. Plus, it’s a very slow and quiet piece so it does test the patience, but you’ll be rewarded for that patience eventually.

Byrne, Tilda Swinton‘s daughter, gives an understated, natural performance which is impressive for her first big project. Swinton herself plays Julie’s protective mother and is excellent as always. Burke gave a fine performance but I just hated his character so much it was hard to separate him from that.

The Souvenir should have moved me but it is told in such a cold way that I couldn’t invest in it or care for the characters. I currently feel like the only person in this camp though, since everyone else has been raving about it.

In selected cinemas from Friday 30th August 

Rating: 3/5

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