Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir” gave us a homage to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” with an autobiographical format. Talking about this film is difficult. I have a feeling if I want to hate or like it. It’s very stiff to the theme. Rather than plays in the safe zone, we got one of the most empathetic experiences. It’s a movie about toxicity whose toxicity would love it. Hogg gives us a fragment of personal memory in realistically. Perhaps, it’s about how to change individuality, how to aspiring in a person, or how to live toxic relationships. Kind of like a bad romance.
The story is about Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie, an aspiring student film. In one party, she managed to approach Tom Burke as Anthony, a mysterious yet untrustworthy man. He is a little older than the protagonist, working in an office. He takes note of her and tells more about his ideas and share an interest. Anthony gives movie recommendations for Julie’s reference. He becomes a part of her life, moves to one romantic moment to another. In one night, Julie notices his arm and feels out of place with Anthony’s personality. He becomes weird and weirder. He becomes more isolated until their relationship fades away.
Joanna Hogg, before “The Souvenir”, had worked on “Unrelated”, “Archipelago”, and “Exhibition”. In each of her movies, she always centered her character into a family drama about the middle class, especially British. She always put her character, besides the center of the story, in the middle of the frame. She looks into these characters, what their characteristics of it were, and starts to enter the inner mind of herself. It seems like it didn’t work well but she always alienated her audience into one of the most uncomfortable movies. And “The Souvenir” is one of them.
Most A24 movies put their director and writer to create a personal film. “Moonlight” and “Lady Bird” are one of the examples. “The Souvenir” is a tale of tragedy and romance. To find her directorial voice, there is a respite between Julie and Hogg. Plus, this is a personal story to her own, a matter and question it hangs to everyone. It’s about what is our next decision. Anthony acts as a teacher or guide to Julie but he becomes brat when he is uncomfortable with her existence. On the other hand, Julie acts as a guardian to Anthony. But, the difficulty is choosing her voice as a filmmaker or remains unchanged. Yet, they stab each other by having an affair, a strange way to solve the problem.
“The Souvenir” reminds me of a painting in the 19th century but still there is a contemporary element. The 80s is the set regardless of the movie set in such a period. But, it’s more set in this day. Hogg creates all of its tone and atmosphere to not shake off the entire set; not like this is an experimental movie. It’s always circling the corner, around the Hogg memory, and it never stops. The movie, simply, is about how important an individual is, the person you love, and who understands you the most. It’s about breaking up to the depth level with so much complexity. Like an enigmatic, a remarkable performance by Swinton Byrne, Burke, and Swinton.
Every shot in this movie is consequential, like a trip of a couple, happy romance in a dream-like place. Still, the movie used two sets mostly in Julie’s apartment and the studio of the film school. Most of the shot use the wide shot of the countryside; the movie emphasizes the set’s also in a small town. Regardless of which, the movie has random shots too, a pointless shot like we don’t have to see it again. The story also only focuses on one or two characters were talking and talking. We get a conflict after building and prolonging the introduction of the story. The first ten to twenty minutes are a challenge so the movie sticks with its dull and monotonous.
“The Souvenir” is a tale of heartbreaking, tragedy, family, relationship, affection, and voice, creating it ambiguously. Swinton Byrne and Burke recreate Hogg’s memories into one of the jaw-dropping moments you can find in cinema. It’s sharp yet flows like a water, a painful reference, toxicity you can find in most each of us. However, it’s dull by a lot of people and needs some time to be able to adapt to it. Not really overrated apart people pushed the movie so quickly. Above all, this is a thrilling, mystery, and sad movie.
4 out of 5 stars.