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Review: The Souvenir (2019)

Review: The Souvenir (2019)

The Souvenir (2019)

The Souvenir (2019, dir. Joanna Hogg) is a different take on what it means to love someone with a substance addiction. The film follows Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a privileged young filmmaker who falls for Antony (Tom Burke), a functioning heroin addict.

Julie is not an easy protagonist. Though Honor’s portrayal of her elicits the audience’s sympathy, Julie’s naïveté is often frustrating. At the screening I attended, the audience tittered at moments of Julie’s blind, misplaced faith in her lover. Ultimately, though, it is her film – just as unassuming yet impactful as she is.

Cinematic depictions of substance addiction are often melodramatic and focus on the working class, suggesting addiction is a ‘poor people problem.’ The world of The Souvenir is clearly coded as a bubble of privilege. Julie lives in Knightsbridge in a flat that her parents pay for. Said parents are the tweed-wearing, country-house type. Antony works for the Foreign Office. In this way, The Souvenir freshens a familiar narrative.

Still, The Souvenir is not an easy film. It is filled with silence and subtext. If you see it, I recommend forgoing the popcorn. There were many moments where I could clearly hear the reactions of other audience members. The sex scenes in particular are audibly awkward. When it isn’t awkward, this quietness is introspective, which truly makes the audience feel like a voyeur.

The film might be quiet and slow-paced but it builds to many heart-breaking moments so that you feel as though you have been holding your breath through each scene. The Souvenir presumes an intelligent and patient audience, rewarding them with a tender but tragic story.

The film is well-acted and beautifully shot, complete with an eclectic soundtrack. In the end, though Julie has changed, it is hard to tell if she has learnt anything from her experiences. The Souvenir of the title seems to be Julie’s art. At the beginning of the film, she wants to make a feature about a young boy called Tony living in Sunderland who loses his mother. Many of her tutors at film school point out that her life experiences don’t connect with those of Tony. By the end, her focus has shifted and become more aligned with her own experiences. Judging from the trailer, this evolution in art and artist is explored further in the film’s sequel, The Souvenir Part II (2021, dir. Joanna Hogg), currently in UK cinemas. In The Souvenir Part II, the toxic relationship of The Souvenir feeds into Julie’s art as she makes a film based on her memories of Antony. Overall, The Souvenir is a thoughtful reflection on what it means to be a female filmmaker, crafted by a talented female filmmaker.


Written for The Film Dispatch by Niamh Carey-Furness. 


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