Souvenir, THE

(director/writer: Joanna Hogg; cinematographer: David Raedeker; editor: Helle Le Fevre; cast: Neil Young (Radio Interviewer), Tilda Swinton (Rosalind), Honor Swinton Byrne (Julie), Tom Burke (Anthony), Tosin Cole (Phil), Richard Ayoade (Patrick), Jack McMullen (Jack), Frankie Wilson (Frankie), Jaygann Ayeh (Marland), Janet Etuk (Janet), Hannah Ashby Ward (Tracy), Chyna Terrelonge-Vaughan (Ray), Jack W. Gregory (Ray), Ariane Labed (Garance); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Luke Schiller, Joanna Hogg; BBC Films/A24; 2019-UK/USA)

“I wasn’t dazzled as much as disappointed that it told us so little about Hogg’s inner feelings in a film that was so personal.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title refers to the painting of the same name by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. The 59-year-old Brit director-writer Joanna Hogg (“Exhibition”/”Archipelago”), in her fourth film, is the auteur of this coming-of-age drama. It’s a semi-autobiographical film about becoming an artist, class issues and a bad opportunistic romance with an older man from her early film school days. It’s a slow moving and a bleakly affecting film.

In the London of the early 1980s, we encounter a sheltered 24-year-old rich girl named Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne, in her first starring role), who lives in a flat with roommates who are a couple. She’s a filmmaker and film student who falls for the wealthy, exquisitely dressed, pretentious intellectual bully Anthony (Tom Burke), who is someone ten years older and more sophisticated than she is. He moves on from her art adviser to her lover, and when her roommates move out he moves in (she recreates on stage the exact flat she lived in at the time in London’s swank Knightsbridge area). Anthony leaves her a postcard with a picture of the girl in “The Souvenir,” and later takes her on their first date to the gallery where the painting is hung. Julie thinks the girl looks sad, while Anthony finds her looking determined.

The former art student, Anthony, is a manipulative dandy, who claims to work for the Foreign Office (but who may actually be a journalist). It’s not known to her at the time that he is also a heroin addict, but when she finds out he’s toast.

All the while, Julie has a close relationship with her protective and wealthy aristocratic parents, especially her mother (Tilda Swinton, who is Swinton Byrne’s real-life mother). They are upper-crusts who will always be there for their darling innocent daughter.

Despite his edginess and red flags he sends with his unsavory behavior toward her, the shy girl still feels helped in her filmmaking endeavors by Anthony’s brilliant critical eye. Arriving in film school, she wishes to make a film about unemployment around the shipyards of Sunderland, something she knows little about.

Unfortunately the relationship completely stresses her out to ever work in the long run. But we get to see it over time, as the tender film turns into a heartbreaking love story of loss. There’s one outward reveal after another (but with no inner soul reveals on her part).

At every turn Julie as Joanna’s alter ego finds her memory tested and squirms with an inner tension but never reveals to us what she’s thinking but seems so lost and sad (So what are we to think?). We are led to believe from this trying relationship, one that frayed her nerves that at least she has enough mommy support to recover from its sour affects and to advance her career as an artist when the monster is no longer in her life.

I thought it was a superficial drama, even if well-acted and crafted, that caught the subject’s outward experiences but never let on what Julie felt inwardly about herself during the testy relationship. The film seemed to just crash down on us like a collection of memories that were supposed to dazzle us like they did her. But I wasn’t dazzled as much as disappointed that it told us so little about Hogg’s inner feelings in a film that was so personal.

REVIEWED ON 8/11/2019       GRADE:    B