Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is a captivating coming-of-age story centered around Honor Swinton Byrne’s lead performance, brilliantly capturing the internal struggle of a young film student caught in a toxic relationship.
Told in scrupulous detail, Hogg isn’t as concerned with why 24-year-old Julie (Swinton Byrne) is enamored with foreign office worker Anthony (Tom Burke). Instead, the infatuation exists and cannot break despite growing evidence that Julie should be running for the hills. Life is imitating art, and it’s painful, messy, and all-consuming.
Julie begins with aspirations to direct a story about a boy’s attachment to his mother in a decaying city. She tells curious friends that it’s a story she finds interesting, but she can’t access a deeper connection to the material. Nor will Julie have to. Anthony floats into her life on a raft of charisma and deflection, asking Julie if he can stay with her for a few days but declining to explain why before she can even ask. It’s the start of a staggering manipulation. That the word love is seldom mentioned is a conscious decision because this is no ordinary love story. Not all love stories need to remind us of what they are.
The muted impact of The Souvenir is that we, the audience, know as much as Julie, so when her apartment is torn apart before a trip to Venice with Anthony, we can share in her surprise. Hogg brilliantly captures Julie’s growing apprehensions and desires without cutting back and forth and instead holds on to the performances. What can we see behind Anthony’s stone-faced expression?
With patience, The Souvenir grows each day, reminding us that Julie’s infatuation isn’t childish. Instead, it’s growing pains, accepting the severity of challenges thrown her way in favor of the partnership. With Tilda Swinton, who rightly supports Honor Swinton’s Byrne in a delicate performance, as Julie’s mother, The Souvenir is remarkable.