If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing one of Joanna Hogg’s earlier movies, you’ll have a general idea of what to expect from her latest film The Souvenir. The juxtaposition of open spaces with small closed ones, and sparse, natural dialogue have become recognizable features of her work and each movie improves on the last in its rendering of the kind of inarticulate familial conflict that arises seemingly out of nowhere and dissipates without any real resolution.
Though each of Hogg’s films has felt deeply personal in one way or another, The Souvenir is personal in the most obvious way a movie can be. Its protagonist is a film student trying feebly to articulate what kind of movie she wants to make and why, which adds a light meta overtone to the whole affair. Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is reminiscent of the protagonist from Hogg’s 2010 film Archipelago, Edward (Tom Hiddleston), who seeks to remove himself from his privileged lifestyle but is in almost every sense dependent on it. But The Souvenir lacks the irony of Archipelago in its portrayal of youthful sincerity.
To say that the film is an emotional rollercoaster is not to describe it aptly.
While Julie is often naïve and gawky, at no point does the movie invite us to find her foolish. In fact, the critiques of her naivete often reflect more the hypocrisy of those issuing them than they do her simplicity. To say that the film is an emotional rollercoaster is not to describe it aptly. The emotional highs don’t crash into the lows and race back up again. It’s an emotional Ferris wheel. The depictions of young love wash over you and you find yourself smiling or even chuckling, but they pass, as they always pass, into a realization that the problem is still present, that it never left and never will.
The movie focuses on Julie’s quietly troubled relationship with Anthony (Tom Burke) an older professional man who abuses heroin. But unlike most narratives that involve drug abuse, The Souvenir doesn’t waste its own, and what is infinitely more important, our time with harrowing sequences of mania and grim come downs. The only consequences of Anthony’s drug use that matter in this movie are the ones that impact his relationship with Julie, a relationship which may give her want she wants while obscuring what she needs.
Joanna Hogg and Honor Swinton Byrne have reincarnated in Julie the character created by Helen Childress and brought to life by Winona Ryder in 1994’s Reality Bites, the prototypical neurotic film student who could run the world if she could just find her keys, the girl who is perpetually, as Anthony puts it “lost”. But while Reality Bites sees its protagonist safely in the arms of a love interest at movie’s close, The Souvenir does something a bit more subversive with its love story, see if you can spot it.