Joanna Hogg mines her formative years as a film student in 80s London in the painfully intimate The Souvenir, which centres on a delicately vulnerable performance by Honor Swinton Byrne. You won't want it to end
Joanna Hogg has evolved as an artist with every film she had made, but her fourth feature is a memoir of her first faltering steps as a director and the toxic relationship that almost derailed her. Julie (Swinton Byrne) is a 24-year-old film student in 80s London who is captivated by Anthony (Burke), the older man who saunters into her life and stays there. Anthony is worldly, enigmatic and charismatic, and we can see why she falls for him, but he's also prone to mysterious disappearances and erratic behaviour. He's harbouring a destructive secret that Julie is too naïve – or too smitten – to see.
That secret is revealed to Julie halfway through the film, shifting the dynamics of the relationship and our perception of it, but our perception of these characters is constantly shifting anyway. The Souvenir is often boldly elliptical, omitting contextualising information and jumping across temporal gaps, with what's left unsaid hanging heavily in the atmosphere. As a director, Hogg has always preferred to maintain a discreet distance, shooting long takes from a fixed angle and often grouping her actors in medium shots, but her filmmaking here feels warmer and more intimate; in fact, it's often painfully intimate, particularly when an unexpected emotional outburst shatters the film's exquisitely crafted stillness.
“You're lost, and you'll always be lost,” Anthony tells Julie early in the film, but The Souvenir is in part the story of how Joanna Hogg found her way as an artist and as a person, with Honor Swinton Byrne's delicately vulnerable performance beautifully capturing the ways Julie is marked and changed by these experiences. Even if you suspect you know how Julie and Anthony's story will end, nothing can prepare you for the heart-stopping power of the final three scenes. The Souvenir is the kind of film you don't want to end. Fortunately, The Souvenir: Part II is coming soon.