by George Wolf
The Souvenir rests at the hypnotic intersection of art and inspiration, an almost shockingly self-aware narrative from filmmaker Joanna Hogg that dares you to label its high level of artistry as pretense.
It is an ode to her craft and her experience, reflecting on both through an autobiographical tale of hard lessons learned.
Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne – Tilda’s daughter) is a young film school student with a privileged background and a cautiously supportive mother (played, of course, by Tilda, who’s customarily splendid). It is the early 1980s, and Julie has high aspirations for projects that will mine truths she has yet to experience.
That changes when she begins a relationship with Anthony (Tom Burke) a complicated older man who preys on Julie’s naivete.
Hogg lays the relationship bare, literally opening her diaries and projects for a portrait of the artist on her own unapologetic terms.
While other cast members had scripted dialog, Byrne worked improvisationally from Hogg’s own journal, with Julie’s student films also closely resembling those in the director’s past.
In her first major role, Byrne is tremendously effective (which, given her lineage, should not be that surprising). In her hands, Julie’s arc is at turns predictable, foolish and frustrating, yet always sympathetic and achingly real.
The intimacy of Hogg’s reflection on a toxic relationship is worthy on its own, but her story’s added resonance comes from its unconventional structure, and the brilliantly organic way Julie’s thoughts on filmmaking tell you why that has to be.
The Souvenir is finely crafted as a different kind of gain from pain, one that benefits both filmmaker and audience. It is artful and cinematic in its love for art and cinema, honest and forgiving in its acceptance, and beautifully appreciative for how life shapes us.
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