Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Souvenir

The Souvenir with Tom Burke as Anthony and Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Le Souvenir (1778). "According to the 1792 sale catalogue, the girl is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s heroine Julie whom he wrote about in his novel of the same name [Julie, ou, La nouvelle Héloïse], although its original title was Lettres de deux amants (habitants d’une petite ville au pied des Alpes) (“Letters from two lovers living in a small town at the foot of the Alps”)." jonathan5485 on his My Daily Art Display website. Please do click on the image to enlarge it.

The Souvenir (2018)
Herstories / Familial Love / About Art
Theme: What’s Up, UK?
Country: United Kingdom, USA
Director: Joanna Hogg
Screenplay: Joanna Hogg
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke, Honor Swinton Byrne
Production: Luke Schiller, Joanna Hogg / The Souvenir Film Ltd
Duration: 119 min
Rating: 16
    Language: English
    Subtitles: none
    Distribution: Protagonist Pictures
    Print source: Protagonist Pictures
    Cinematography: David Raedeker
    Editing: Helle Le Fevre
Collaboration: British Embassy Helsinki
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 22 Sep 2019

Peter Bradshaw (quoted by HIFF): "A gem of a film, shot with powdery perfection, Joanna Hogg’s multilayered memoir of self discovery, artistic dreams, class privilege and the pains of first love solidifies her place at the forefront of new British cinema. A top notch cast is lead by Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke and Tilda Swinton."

"The Souvenir is refrigerated and mysterious: uncompromising, uningratiating: an artefact in the highest auteur register, but a film that creeps up on you – from behind. There’s a challenging absence of obvious readability, particularly with regard to the vital issue of tone. In some ways, it’s like a psychological drama without the drama or an ironic satire without the irony – or not much irony anyway. (Perhaps the nearest thing to playfulness is the deadpan announcement over the closing credits that The Souvenir II is on its way — the way they used to trail the upcoming James Bond.)"

"As with other Hogg films, there is an austere, unemphasised plainness. Closeups are rare. Hogg conducts her dramatic business in a sort of indoor available light, with characters often quite simply going into semi-darkness if they walk away from windows: a look Hogg has contrived in her other films, no matter what cinematographer she is working with. Most distinctively, it is a film about the upper classes, but not in the Downton Abbey style: it is about the upper classes as they actually are, in the dull day-to-day, a social realist movie about posh people. It’s as if Hogg has found a contemporary English response to the rhetoric of Antonioni or Visconti." Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (quoted by HIFF)

AA: This is my first encounter with the work of Joanna Hogg, beautifully discussed by Jana Prikryl in her essay "Why Not Film What Happened?" in The New York Review of Books, the 26 September 2019 issue, covering all her theatrical feature films Unrelated (2007), Archipelago (2010), Exhibition (2013) and The Souvenir (2019).

First impressions: The Souvenir is a sensitive evocation of first love, completely different from Pedro Almodóvar's Dolor y gloria with which it shares the theme and the fact that both films are works of autofiction with a film-maker as the protagonist.

Like Éric Rohmer, Joanna Hogg loves scenes of intimate conversation in which the characters reveal themselves discussing everyday topics. The approach is anti-dramatic, although matters of life and death are at stake.

Like Yasujiro Ozu, Hogg prefers the long shot and seldom uses close-up. People are revealed in their milieux, often at home. The observations of the milieux are accurate and telling.

But Hogg has a style and and approach of her own. In this film the visual look is very much based on cinéma vérité and available light. The image may become blurred at times and the sound reduced to a mumble. Often a main activity is seen in reflections only.

Hogg prefers the long take, and at the same time her structure is fragmentary and elliptic. Thus we receive generous chunks of time followed by abrupt cuts to completely changed circumstances. A personal feature of Hogg's mise-en-scène is the use of divided space: not split screen but rooms divided by doorways or other partitions so that we can observe simultaneous activities in different parts of a dwelling.

Films enter into dialogue in a film festival: yesterday I saw Werk ohne Autor, and like in that film Hogg offers a tender and affectionate view of an art school, her own film school, where she, like Gerhard Richter by Joseph Beuys, is encouraged to be personal, be herself. Julie would like to burst out of the bubble and create works of social realism, but she ends up filming the reality she knows best, of upper and middle class life.

The film references are not at all overbearing but often funny and surprising like boyfriend Anthony's passion for Powell and Pressburger and Anthony and Julie's reference to "the Wall of Jericho" in It Happened One Night.

The Souvenir is a tale of mad love. There is a saying in Finland: "Miksi naiset rakastuvat renttuihin?" ("Why do women fall for tramps?"), and that is the story here, as well. (The same goes for men: Why do men fall for tramps? Look no further than The Blue Angel). One could hear audible sighs of disappointment from the female audience when Julie overlooks yet again an instance of gross transgression by Anthony.

Anthony gives the impression that he is a special officer of the Foreign Office. In fact he is a heroin addict. Nevertheless, the love is true and profound between him and Julie. This is not a case of harassment, or relevant of Me Too. Anthony is deferential and careful. Julie is more active in breaking the Wall of Jericho.

At the start of her career Hogg directed music videos for Alison Moyet among others. Music is important in The Souvenir, and there are passages that resemble the lyrical brand of music videos. Besides pop music that was contemporary in 1982 we hear music from Béla Bartók's opera Bluebeard's Castle (A kékszakállú herceg vára, 1911), a favourite of Anthony's. Plus Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" (1939), a favourite of both Julie and her mother. There is something in Joanna Hogg's approach that seems to aspire to the condition of the musical. There is even a discussion among film students that there has never been a good British musical. (They don't seem to appreciate Jessie Matthews or Absolute Beginners.)

The performances are moving and convincing. Honor Swinton Byrne carries the film in her debut performance as Julie. Her mother is played by Honor's real mother Tilda Swinton (who had acted for Hogg already before Swinton became famous). She returns in a finely observed study of the British upper class. Tom Burke is perfect as the volatile Anthony, the heroin addict posing as diplomat.

The Souvenir is a visual poem. The film was shot on 16 mm photochemical film by David Raedeker, and a sense of the grain has been retained in the digital transfer. In various contexts Hogg displays an affection for the analogue (photographs on film, the typewriter).

The title of the film refers to a painting by the Rococo master Fragonard, made ten years before the Revolution (see image above).


Kun sanotaan, että elokuva lumoaa, tarkoitetaan tätä. Joanna Hoggin The Souvenir kietoo katsojan verkkoonsa vaivihkaa, mutta täydellisesti. Se on yhtä aikaa unenomainen ja hersyvä, täynnä tunnetta vaan ei sentimentaalinen, älykäs, mutta alleviivaamaton. 1980-luvun alkuun sijoittuva tarina on omaelämäkerrallinen, mutta Hogg tuo sen kankaalle häilyvänä muistona, ei jälkiviisaana itseanalyysina.

Yläluokkaisen perheen nuori tytär Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne debyyttiroolissaan) opiskelee Lontoossa elokuvaohjaajaksi ja suunnittelee dokumenttia pohjoisenglantilaisesta työläisaiheesta. Rakastavat vanhemmat (äitinä Swinton Byrnen oikea äiti Tilda Swinton) kannustavat ja rahoittavat tytärtään. Savuisissa juhlissa Julie kohtaa kymmenisen vuotta vanhemman Anthonyn (Tom Burke), jonka charmi ja rehellisyytenä esitetyt sivallukset hämmentävät ja vetävät häntä puoleensa. Alkaa romanssi ja tragedia.

Hoggin säästeliäs kerronta antaa tilaa ajatuksille ja kysymyksille. Paitsi ensirakkauden kuvaus, The Souvenir on tutkielma taiteen tekemisestä ja edellytyksistä sekä nuoren naisen pyrkimyksestä löytää oma äänensä. Puuterisin kuvin kerrottu tarina on kuin Julien kohtaama pieni rokokoomaalaus, josta elokuva saa nimensä: intiimi ja arvoituksellinen kuva tytöstä, joka haluaa painaa jälkensä maailmaan. Jatko-osaa tehdään jo.

Anna Möttölä (HIFF)

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