Souvenir, The (2019): Joanna Hogg’s Coming of Age Tale, Probing into Toxic Relationship

Joanna Hogg wrote and directed The Souvenir, an intimate personal drama, starring Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, and Tilda Swinton.

The film is a semi-fictionalized version of Hogg’s own experiences at film school.

Byrne stars as Julie, a young wealthy woman attending film school who meets and develops an increasingly destructive relationship with a secretive older man who encourages her ambition.

The title refers to the painting of the same name by Jean-Honoré Fragonard which is also featured in the film.

World premiering at the 2019 Sundance Film Fest to great acclaim, it was released by A24 on May 17, 2019.

Julie, a young woman attending film school, wants to make a movie about a boy, his mother, and their life in Sunderland. She lives in a flat with another student and his girlfriend.

Things change when she meets Anthony, a much older, well-to-do-man who works at the Foreign Office, who moves in with her after her roommate moves out.

He leaves a postcard with a picture of the girl in “The Souvenir”. He later takes her to the gallery where the painting is hung. Julie says the girl looks sad, while Anthony says she looks determined.

They visit her parents, where Julie’s mother, Rosalind, puts them in separate bedrooms. Anthony has to travel to Paris, but returns with some lingerie, which he asks Julie to put on. While they are in bed, she notices some needle marks on his arm, but doesn’t know what they are.

He continues to ask Julie for money regularly, and she pays for their restaurant bills, while forced to borrow money from her parents.

Julie and Anthony take a vacation to Venice. Anthony explains that he has had relationships with three other girls, including trips to Venice with one of them, who had committed suicide on the trip.

Julie starts noticing when Anthony is on heroin, and she attends a self-help group.

One evening, she finds that her apartment has been broken into, and her valuable jewelry is missing. Anthony later admits to doing it, but claims that he didn’t want to tell her to keep her from feeling bad. Anthony then moves out too.

 

They meet again, and Julie invites him back in with her, but he soon starts using drugs again. Anthony goes missing, but is later found dead having overdosed in a public toilet.

Made by a filmmaker in command of her craft and a star perfectly matched with the material, The Souvenir is an impactful coming of age drama.

Achingly well-observed in its study of a young artist inspired, derailed and finally strengthened by a toxic relationship, it is at once the coming-of-age story of many women and a specific creative manifesto for one of modern British cinema’s most singular writer-directors.

British film magazine Sight & Sound magazine named The Souvenir as the best film of 2019 based on a poll of 100 film critics.