FEBRUARY 26, 2020 / FILM REVIEW
Joanna Hogg's autobiographical 2019 film is a how-to for exploration of personal stories in an engaging way
DIRECTOR: JOANNA HOGG, PRODUCTION DESIGNER: STEPHANE COLLONGE
There is a scene at the beginning of The Souvenir in which Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) and her new lover Anthony (Tom Burke) go on a date in the Wallace Collection, and become entranced by a painting called ‘The Souvenir’. The Fragonard piece centres around a woman carving the initials of her lover onto a tree. Julie comments, “She looks sad,” to which Anthony responds “I think she looks determined. And very much in love.” In a similar way, this story may be perceived as a tragedy, or, as Hogg has decided to frame it, as a relationship that while sad, shaped her early career and framed her development as an artist.
‘The Souvenir’ is based on Hogg’s own experiences when she was at film school; she is the lover in the act of carving her lover’s name, in remembrance of what once was.
This is a largely a tragic story, but time for reflection has clearly opened Hogg's eyes to the complexity of those early relationships where, for good or bad, you devote yourself entirely to one person, which can completely alter the framework of who you are, and alters your experience of relationships going forward. As always with Hogg's work, the sense of the privilege that numbs any blows to Julie is very present - having a partner who scrounges off you and constantly asks for money is framed as a slightly smaller deal than for any other 21-year old, when its subsequent scene is her mother blindingly giving her money to make up for it.
Julie’s loyalty towards Anthony is inexplicable at times, however it creates a rare narrative of depicting a
turbulent relationship without overtly villainising the person opposite our protagonist. His actions are often
questionable; however Hogg keeps the camera’s gaze at a distance, refusing to colour the audience’s view
of either character. In an age of spoon-fed characters, it is so refreshing to see a character like Julie so
unashamedly strong in a very human way. She carries with her a true sense of feminine strength, not
through power, but through making her own assertions, and sticking to them. She may make bad decisions
at times, but she powers through and finds a better sense of self and artistic fulfilment by f*cking up, but
still coming out the other side of it.
This film is a quietly controlled, visually stunning observation of a moment in Hogg’s life that feels like the Japanese art of kintsugi where they fix broken vases by forging it together with gold: something, once broken, transformed into something beautiful.
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SOURCE: EDWARD ISHAM