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  Souvenir, The Love Is The Drug - No, Wait, It's Smack
Year: 2019
Director: Joanna Hogg
Stars: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, Tosin Cole, Jack McMullen, Frankie Wilson, Hannah Ashby Ward, Janet Etuk, Chyna Terrelonge-Vaughan, Alice McMillan, Richard Ayoade, Lydia Fox, Jaygann Ayeh, Jake Phillips Head, Ariane Labed, Dick Fontaine
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is a film student in her early twenties who is painfully aware of her privileged background, and to remedy that in her work she plans to make films highlighting working class subject matter. This, she believes, will balance out her upbringing with the issues affecting society in the nineteen-eighties, and make her a more rounded person, but perhaps it is her naivety that she should be addressing. This exhibits itself in her first serious boyfriend, Anthony (Tom Burke), something of a mystery man who exerts a strange hold over Julie; he is posh and well-spoken, like her, and has a job at the foreign office, but he seems to be keeping something hidden...

Alarm bells would be ringing from Anthony's first few scenes with Julie, yet she is unaware that she is walking into a trap, which was the trigger for writer and director Joanna Hogg to make The Souvenir in the first place, for it was an autobiographical work. Names were changed, but the general gist of events was the same, and it was clear she had reached that point in her life where she looked back on her younger years and pondered, "What the Hell was I thinking? What the Hell was I doing?!" Everyone with even the slightest trace of self-awareness will wonder that every once in a while, especially as those earlier years will inform the personality and path your existence has taken.

But maybe Hogg had more cause to reflect than some (maybe not, but even so...) for those days spent between trying out her student film projects and hanging out with Anthony shaped her in a manner that it was obvious from this she was worrying at like a loose tooth. Should she have gotten over this by now, or was it something she would carry with her to the grave? Although you can predict how the relationship would end up, the fact that she alluded to a painting this film was named after depicting a young woman carving her lover's name into the bark of a tree as a "souvenir" indicated she felt Anthony was worth commemorating no matter his treatment of her.

What did he do that was so bad? Was it not more the case that he was self-destructive and Julie/Joanna takes the fallout of that? From the second we see the needle marks in the crook of his elbow, you will either be dreading the worst - that Julie will become a heroin addict as well - or be as unworldly as she is and not regard it as a problem as long as there is love in the air. The former will be more likely, but despite that his character keeps his cards close to his chest, whether he is staging a burglary and pretending someone else did it, or inviting one of his druggy friends round to sleep off his haze, or simply borrowing yet another tenner from Julie (money that she is siphoning off from her rich parents), somehow she is able to wave away any concerns until the penny finally drops. And even then, she remains in love with the unnerving Anthony, a state of affairs that will continue unless someone or something steps in to remove him from her life.

This was part one of a two part biopic of sorts, and you feel a kind of anger at her younger self from Hogg, despite the apparently placid, coolly observational surface, that she would be taken in that way, though on the other hand there is a fascination lingering about him that he could have done precisely that. Was there any good in him? Is he actually evil? Did he really have affection for her or was it just the need for his next fix taking over his brain and doing all his seduction for him? The fact that she can never be sure, well, of course it would play on her mind down the decades, but you can sense Hogg being thankful that she was able to learn from her experience and build on it to find her own voice in film: there was nobody crafting a body of work quite like hers, from this perspective, and this won her a following. Star Swinton Byrne was effectively in her debut, supported by her mother Tilda Swinton playing Julie's mother, and delivered a performance of well-meaning innocence that hardens over time, with Burke the poison in her veins building immunity. Cold, almost imperious, but impressive.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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