This review was originally published as part of our Berlinale festival coverage on 25/02/2019.
Based on the filmmaker’s experiences when she attended film school in the ’80s, The Souvenir is fascinated with film as a tool for documentation and archive. As a a semi-autobiographical work, the main character, Julie, acts as a cypher for director Joanna Hogg, the film operating as a window into the past for Hogg herself, a lot of it taking place in a perfect replica of Hogg’s real flat in the ’80s.
Through Julie, Hogg looks inward at her own privilege while looking back at a past love. Julie seems to exist in a bubble, holed up in a comfortable home in Knightsbridge, never seeming to worry about money due to a considerable safety net from her parents. We see interludes of slide film on a light table, 35mm projections of old landscape photos that Hogg took. Her story and her love of film are intertwined, the tight aspect ratio and framing giving the expressions on her face and the action of her handling this film equal prominence.
Burke is excellent and infuriating as Julie’s boyfriend Anthony, whose heroin addiction slowly poisons their already questionable relationship. One of the film’s bolder choices is in how it never hides the red flags, to the point where watching Julie fall for him is agony. The relationship isn’t healthy – and yet it drags on, keeping them both imprisoned. The film couples its exploration of how film can show you the truth of the world with a story of someone whose bubble of privilege is burst. It becomes clear that class status can’t shield you from your worst impulses, and often enables them.
Doubling as a film about love and loss, art and privilege, and about film as a window into the lives of others, The Souvenir is masterful and heartbreaking.
CAST: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton
DIRECTOR: Joanna Hogg
WRITERS: Joanna Hogg
SYNOPSIS: A shy but ambitious film student finds her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man.