Engaging and intriguing
- The Souvenir review by PD
Joanna Hogg's latest film is never not engaging. Her protagonist, Julie (beautifully played by Honor Swinton Byrne), is a 24-year-old 'privileged' woman with a Knightsbridge flat who wants to make a film about a boy growing up by the docks of Sunderland. Quizzed by authority figures sceptical of her choice to stray so far from her own experience, Julie speaks of her insularity, her class privilege, her need to cultivate a socially conscious aesthetic. She pores over black-and-white footage of working-class boys in a school playground , leaning into her manual typewriter (it’s the 1980s) and struggling to concoct a story line. The people who question Julie’s motivation for telling this story are Men Who Explain Things to Her. Enter stage right, Anthony — seen only from the back at first — holding forth in a plummy voice on her proposed characters (“Why are they more real than me?”) and wondering whether she’s trying to peddle a “received idea of life on the docks.” He’s perhaps a bit too ridiculous (“You’re very special, Julie.” “Very normal, really.” “You’re a freak.” “I think I’m quite average.” “You’re lost, and you’ll always be lost”) to be entirely convincing. Indeed, you do wonder if they'd ever be in a relationship in real life - 'how on earth did they get together?' someone asks at some point, and we're inclined to agree, whilst we often want to shout at Julie for her indecision and inability to see the blindingly obvious, but perhaps that's exactly what Hogg wants us to feel. First impressions are soon revealed to be turned on their head, and while Anthony is denying and denying and playing head games (“I know you have a received version of what I’m supposed to be”), Julie is struggling in film school to learn to frame her experience. There’s some loose talk of the mechanics of Psycho and some stabs (no pun intended) at directing scenes, but no artistic breakthroughs. (Not in this installment, anyway: The Souvenir: Part II is in preproduction). Anthony claims to work for the Foreign Office, but a note of scepticism is in order for the simple reason that, as Julie slowly discovers, he has a habit of lying about nearly everything.
The title refers to a painting by the 18th-century French artist Jean-Honore Fragonard that Anthony and Julie view on one of their 'dates'. It depicts a young woman, scrutinised by her pet dog, carving letters into the trunk of a tree. “She’s very much in love,” Anthony says with his usual suave certainty, and perhaps he’s right. But there’s a lot more going on in the picture (as in the film) than that simple declaration would suggest. The woman is making a mark and putting down a marker, declaring her own presence with a mixture of shame and audacity, impulsiveness and deliberation. So, Julie does love Anthony, and sacrifices a great deal for him without quite realising what she’s doing. Over the span of the film her friends slip away, and the work that had seemed so urgent feels a bit more remote. But the interplay of forces in Julie’s life is subtle, as is the balance, in her own temperament, between decisiveness and passivity.
What's the point? Mmm ... well I suppose it's something to do with the director digging into her own past. In her stunning first film, Unrelated (2007), a story of a 40-ish woman who joins a friend’s family in Italy while trying to come to terms with not having children is steeped in honest sentiment, but without being sentimental. It feels detached, but when you get it, you’re overwhelmed by it. We don't get the same feeling here, and because Hogg rarely moves the camera, we might well feel marooned with people you don’t know for reasons we don’t understand. But Hogg usually convinces us that this is the only honest way to tell a story with any emotional complexity. An intriguing piece of filmaking with lots to offer for the patient and those who can live without a conventional narrative thread.
9 out of 12 members found this review helpful.
One to miss
- The Souvenir review by AL
After watching, or should I say enduring the film, I found that all the glowing reviews were from arty film critics.
Audience reviews are usually at odds with them.
For me I found it slow, over-long, boring, pointless and pretentious.
The best part was when it ended!
8 out of 11 members found this review helpful.
Souvenir is memorable
- The Souvenir review by JF
Another strong and interesting film from Joanna Hogg. I've loved the truthfulness of the relationships in her other films and this is more personal, apparently autobiographical and equally believable. There is poetry and symbolism in the way she reprises images through the film. Hogg should be winning prizes.
2 out of 5 members found this review helpful.
A pretentious, slow and boring sentimental drama -- so much so that it should be French
- The Souvenir review by PJ
An upper-class young woman (Julie), who is an aspiring film director, falls in love with a mysterious and enigmatic young man (Anthony), who tells her he works for the Foreign Office. The story takes place in the early 1980s in London, I believe, and bombs planted by terrorists are the backdrop to the plot. The man implies that he works in counter-terrorism and intelligence for the British government. The girl believes him. The man moves in with the heroine, but it turns out he may not be what he said he was…
The storyline is rather good, in and of itself. The female lead’s acting (Honor Swinton Byrne) is good and she is convincing: that is the only truly good thing about the film. The male lead’s acting (Tom Burke) is not bad, but it is hard to take him seriously, at times, as he can be so pompous -- the brooding type who thinks he is so profound.
The problem lies with the dialogues, often stilted; with the situations, somehow disconnected from reality (the fine dining is redolent of 1920s London rather than anything else); and with the pace of the movie. To put it bluntly, there is no pace to talk about or, to be more specific, it is slow. Very slow. And not so much happens as a matter of fact -- and it happens slowly. Not to mention a range of clichés (e.g.: the lead male character sports a pin-stripe suit at all times, because he works – or says he works – for the Foreign Office, and he even wears his formal attire when having dinner with friends in his girlfriend’s flat, as if we were in the 1920s at Downton Abbey).
The upshot of all this is that, weirdly, what could have been a good plot and a good story is actually a long, tedious, slow, annoying, frustrating, and boring turkey. The other weird thing is that reviews were good (or very good) overall when the movie came out, which lured me into wanting to see it: don’t make the same mistake! Unless you like that kind of pretentious, self-aware, pseudo-intellectual film (it could be a 1970s French arty sentimental drama, in fact!), you will be bored stiff.
It probably is one of the 5 worst films I have seen in the past 20 years. And the list is not that long since I usually manage to sniff them out and avoid them like the plague.
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.