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film review

Honor Swinton Byrne stars in Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir.NICOLA DOVE/Courtesy of Mongrel

  • The Souvenir
  • Written and directed by Joanna Hogg
  • Starring Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke and Tilda Swinton
  • Classification N/A, 120 minutes
  • 3.5 stars

Early on in her excellent new drama The Souvenir, director Joanna Hogg aligns her film with its most despicable character. “We don’t want to see life play out as it is,” says Anthony (Tom Burke), a Cambridge-educated, silver-tongued mooch, “we want to see it as experienced within this soft machine.” That Anthony is using his words to woo film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), who herself is based on Hogg, only adds to The Souvenir’s paradoxical approach to filmmaking as personal history.

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This is not a movie that lets life simply play out as it is or was – it is instead a collection of memories, some sharp as shards but others smoothed down. It is, as Anthony says, an experience that cannot be replicated in another medium. Which is also to say it is wonderful, a heart-on-its-sleeve drama of love and mistakes that should make Hogg more of a household (or certain type of household) name outside her native Britain.

The director’s semi-autobiographical, 1980s-set story may be small – it mostly focuses on the turbulent relationship between Julie and Anthony as the former struggles to find her artistic voice and the latter battles various addictions – but her impulses and vision are grand. So, too, are her casting instincts, with Swinton Byrne excelling in her first ever role – though perhaps that was less a surprise for Hogg given that the young actress’s mother is Tilda Swinton, who pops up here as Julie’s own mother. That’s just how life, I suppose, goes in the soft machine.

The Souvenir opens June 7 in Montreal, Vancouver and at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto, accompanied by a three-film retrospective on Joanna Hogg (tiff.net).

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