MIFF 2019: The Souvenir Review

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Words by Benjamin Polazzon

“I think she looks sad”
“I think she looks determined – and very much in love”

They say opposites attract. It argues people with contrasting personalities are most suited to one another and perfectly describes Julie and Anthony. However, it neglects to mention the issues that arise with someone so different from oneself. For those with an acquired taste, The Souvenir is: slow, mellow, bleak, funny and above all expertly crafted and performed.

While attending film school in the early 1980s, Julie enters into a relationship with a well-to-do but secretive older man Anthony. She defies friends and family and falls deeper into an unstable relationship with fascinating highs and harrowing lows.

In her debut leading role, Honor Swinton Byrne is astounding and in complete control of the work she has been presented. Tom Burke is also brilliant, perfectly balancing the mysterious and the comedic. In her minor role, Tilda Swinton does not disappoint or overshadow her fellow cast members. Richard Ayoade is an absolute treat and bestows the most entertaining scene in the film.

Joanna Hogg has made a very particular film. It moves at its own pace; that being a slow one. The colour palette is dry and there is little to no music. Regardless, it is an absolutely beautiful piece of work. David Raedeker deserves an immense amount of praise for his cinematography. The shots are gorgeous and drip with elegance. Hogg has outdone herself in the writing department. The drama is small but significant and the comedy comes so unexpectedly. Actors come alive in their roles which can only be attributed to her abilities as a director.

Many aspects of The Souvenir are polarising. Despite the fantastic writing, the characters are hard to connect with. Creatives might connect with Julie and her struggle to create but majority of the audience will not have that same bond. While well-done, the slow pacing becomes tiresome. Above all, the lack of music is shameful as it is employed in the trailer to great effect. It may not be fair to compare the two, but a score would have done wonders.

If I had written this review a week ago, it would have been negative. Walking out of the Capitol Theatre left me incredibly disappointed. I wanted more than what the film had given me. In the days preceding, my appreciation for the film has grown immensely. The film wears its heart on its sleeve. Its monochromatic colours and unhurried pacing radiate the same beauty as the superb acting and writing. While it may not seem like it, The Souvenir is a flawed gift that shines just as brightly as the immaculate ones.