In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Ad Astra

This is rare, nuanced storytelling, anchored by one of Brad Pitt’s career-best performances and remarkable technical elements on every level. It’s a special film.

Where's My Roy Cohn?

"Homosexuals have AIDS. I have liver cancer." That corrosive line from Tony Kushner's acclaimed play "Angels in America" is delivered by the character of Roy Cohn,…

Other reviews
Review Archives

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other articles
Blog Archives

Sundance 2019: The Souvenir

A drama teacher once told me that great theatre was often about the most important day of your character’s life. While this is often true, it doesn’t have to be the case. Plenty of filmmakers have been eschewing the concept that every scene has to be plot-driven or even that every plot point has to be foreshadowed and cinematically underlined. They demand more from their audience than your typical Hollywood fare, asking them to engage with the characters more than having a story laid out for them in simple, predictable beats. All of this preamble is to say that Joanna Hogg's “The Souvenir” is not your typical Sundance movie. It’s challenging, but arguably more rewarding in the end than anything I saw in Park City this year.

Advertisement

Tilda Swinton’s daughter Honor Swinton-Byrne stars as Julie, a young film school student learning some of the tough lessons of the creative form while struggling to make ends meet in ‘80s London. Julie is trying to find her voice, and she seems inspired by the arrival into her life of a charismatic man named Anthony (Tom Burke). At first, Julie and Anthony don’t seem to have much in common. He often lords intellectual superiority over her, and seems almost condescending, but she’s drawn to him and inspired by him. And then we learn that he’s not as perfect as he first seems. Swinton herself also stars as, of course, Julie’s mother.

“The Souvenir” features extended, often-improvised scenes of mundane, daily life. Characters go for a walk, make a meal, bounce ideas off each other. It can be narratively challenging, but it grounds the film in such a realistic way that when Hogg does turn up the volume on the film’s plot, it contains incredible emotional resonance. She’s also a very formally striking director, shooting on film and rarely moving her camera. She’ll leave it in a corner of the apartment or looking through the bedroom door and allow characters to come in and out of frame, as if we’re simply spying on a private moment.

To be blunt, Swinton-Byrne gives one of the best debut performances I’ve ever seen, completely grounding Julie in something that feels 100% genuine. We forget we’re watching an actress, especially when one considers how personal this film is for the filmmaker. The result is a piece of work that plays out almost like a shared memory, one that is both incredibly specific to these people but also universal for all of us who have experienced love, loss, growth, and finding our creative voices. And then Hogg completely sticks the landing, producing a pair of final shots that I will never forget. Be patient with “The Souvenir” and you won’t either. 

Advertisement

Popular Blog Posts

Netflix’s The I-Land is Almost So Bad That You Should Watch It

A review of Netflix's The I-Land, the worst show in the streaming service's history.

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Ken Burns' Country Music Series is Thought-Provoking, Joyful

The latest series from revered documentarian Ken Burns premieres on Sunday, September 15 on PBS.

TIFF 2019: Motherless Brooklyn, Anne at 13,000 Feet, The Moneychanger

On three films from TIFF, including the latest from Ed Norton.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus