Souvenir, The (2019)

Hogg’s annoyingly pretentious film is a slog to get through, so it’s bewildering to see nearly every critic thinking it is a godsend. 

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Dir. Joanna Hogg
2019 | UK | Drama/Romance | 120 mins | 1.66:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for some sexuality, graphic nudity, drug material and language

Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton
Plot: A young film student in the early ’80s becomes romantically involved with a complicated and untrustworthy man.
Awards: Won Grand Jury Prize – World Cinema Dramatic (Sundance); Nom. for C.I.C.A.E. Award – Panorama (Berlin)
International Sales: Protagonist Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: The Projector
Spoilers: No

Please forgive me, but I wanted to walk out of this film.  But I stayed on in hopes that it might just get better, or at least more interesting.  It didn’t.  So, at the end of it, I was worried that I had lost my ability to appreciate cinema. 

But I have to be honest with myself, The Souvenir doesn’t resonate with me one bit.  That’s putting it charitably; to put it bluntly, it is 2019’s most annoying and pretentious arthouse film.  Therefore, it is bewildering to me that nearly every critic thinks it is a godsend.  Maybe it is, but I don’t wish to pretend to like it. 

Written and directed by Joanna Hogg, The Souvenir sees Tilda Swinton’s daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne, in the lead role as a young film student who has dreams of making her own feature, but becomes romantically entangled with an older man, Anthony (Tom Burke). 

“It doesn’t matter that they’re not real people. I mean, I’m not trying to make a documentary. I’m just… you know, I’m making a feature film.”

For better or worse, Hogg takes pains to eliminate all traces of sentimentality, and what we get is at best an anti-romance (which could have been interesting in and of itself), and at worst, one of the most uninteresting couples I’ve seen in a movie for some time.  It’s a dour and lethargic affair, and even Mama Swinton couldn’t save the film in the few occasions she is on. 

I think Hogg’s film is meant to be appreciated as a raw and slow-burn experience of a toxic relationship, but my problem with it is that the characters are so lifeless. 

She also inserts some political commentary from the 1980s when the story is set such as terrorist bombings in the UK which gives the film a slightly wider social context. 

Much of the entire film’s cinematography is drab-looking, save for a few poetic outdoorsy wide shots that are literally a breath of fresh air.  To think that there’s going to be a sequel… 

Grade: C-




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