Joanna Hogg (“Unrelated”) turns to the subject of film school in “Souvenir.” This unfailingly melancholy tale is about love, selfishness and co-dependency. Hogg represents a new wave of British filmmakers delivering realism, spare dialogue and emotionally intense characters without slick details or special effects. As an uncompromising analysis of love and naïveté, Hogg succeeds, but audiences are sure to be divided by such morose treatment.
Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is a film student working on a fictional story featuring Sunderland’s working class. One day Julie receives a note saying that Anthony (Tom Burke) wants to meet her to discuss her film.
The well-dressed man, a foreign office worker mumbles here and there, telling her that he is well versed in art and creativity and they begin a debate on film aesthetics. Julie is smitten by the older, seemingly sophisticated man who has travelled the world, having many connections.
Anthony quickly moves into Julie’s modest flat, no questions asked. Julie doesn’t mind a bit, since Anthony gives such a charming impression, wearing a suit and tie and what looks like a grand costume jacket.
Then Anthony asks for money. With every setback or sudden emergency, he professes to have, Anthony smiles. It becomes obvious that he does not work. Julie accepts the situation in stride thinking things will improve. The young woman is dedicated to her studies but she is frequently ill and distracted.
Rest assured, events decline further.
Tom Burke is excellent as a vain, n’eer do well know-it-all, a man of appearances. Honor Swinton Byrne is equally perfect as the sensitive and idealistic student who hopes against all hope that her heart will absorb enough of Anthony’s egotistical and arrogant poisons, and ultimately make romance a life-long attainable condition instead of a sickness.
Tilda Swinton appears (as she is in real life) as Julie’s mother.
All of the performances are perfection. It is only the painfully real rhythm of the film which may cause the audience to wince. Scene after scene shows Anthony’s conceited qualities and put downs, followed by his soporific and near comatose episodes, either frightening or sad. When Anthony is sober, he sneers. Julie stares passively out of a window showing a cheerless gray sky.
Only the banter of film criticism, gives Julie some welcome respite.
Though difficult, insular and harsh, “Souvenir” is a searingly accurate portrait highlighting what it is to be an enabler, forever hoping that egocentric lust will transcend from a virus into something giving and generous.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org