New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: The Souvenir

A young woman’s struggle with her art and love is exacerbated in this well forged but depressing British drama. Joanna Hogg wrote and directed this autobiographical story which exposes a self-destructive, addictive relationship between an idealistic film student and a cultured, self indulgent, older man. This is a labor of love for Hogg and takes her time presenting it. 

Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne, in her first lead role) is sweet, soft-spoken and malleable. First scenes show her taking photos of working class people in the Sunderland ship yards where Hogg grew up in the 1980’s. She wants to use them in a proposal to make a film.  

Julie is looking for guidance. She meets and becomes infatuated with a cultured, condescending cad who takes her under his wing. Anthony, played exquisitely by Tom Burke (War and Peace TV series). Anthony is overwhelming. Burke does upper crust highbrow and full of himself well, challenging her constantly, prodding her to focus on what she wants to do. We first meet him in formal surroundings over tea at a museum where he shows her the Fragonard painting of a young girl with a dog in the masterpiece called The Souvenir. 

Their relationship seems all intellectual at first, slowly becoming more friendly until they finally move in together. There is a playful, cute scene with a reference to Colbert and Gable in It Happened One Night staying away from each other in the same bed. It suddenly becomes intimate with sexy gifts he brings on his travels with the Foreign office. But you don’t know someone until you live with them and this film shows just that. Anthony is a depressed, drug and alcohol addicted, sick human being who gets Julie to pay more and more for his habits. She is in love, but is he? 

Julie’s mother (Tilda Swinton was in Hogg’s first feature film 30 years ago) is supportive of her daughter’s artistic leanings but concerned as she gives her money for  her “artistic project” which is really Anthony. One minute he can be charming and loving.  Next? You hate him for how he’s draining her self-confidence and self-worth, as she tries to focus on making her first film. 

Julie is trying to prove herself to herself as an artist, but Anthony changes that dynamic so she feels the need to prove herself to him. Despite him, she is able to get organized enough to make a presentation that succeeds in getting her into film school which adds even more pressure.

Byrne does well acting as a pent up mess of extremes. She is shy, but open. She is ambitious but reserved. Her sweet voice and demeanor are pleasant on screen, but you can tell there is more churning underneath. Director Hogg often has her shot staring off quietly trying to figure out what to do next with Tony and her life.

The film gets more depressing as their relationship becomes more strained. There are many nerve wracking and embarrassing moments as Anthony puts her in bad situations. Julie tries to take it all in without overreacting which is hard to watch. You want to yell at her on the screen to get away from him. But he’s so sad. Director Hogg relieves the tension as the relationship deteriorates by periodically going to the visual of a placid landscape to calm things down and act as a reset. It’s like getting a breath of fresh air before going back into the mire.  

The acting is superb Interesting to watch Swinton Byrne and her mother interact. Her parents are supportive but their remarks about class, art, love and addiction are revealing. They becomes a rude awakening to Julie about how relationships and experiences can alter your perspective when you’re young. It may make you reflect on the relationships that affected your path growing up.  

A 24       1 hour 59 minutes            R 

from Movies and Shakers http://bit.ly/30o0Yul

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