(Release Info UK schedule; August 26th, 2019, Curzon Oxford, Westgate Centre, Oxford OX1 1NZ, United Kingdom, 6:15pm)
(Release Info London schedule; August 27th, 2019, Curzon Mayfair, Curzon St, Mayfair, London W1J 7TY, United Kingdom, 6:15pm
Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a shy but ambitious film student, begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with the charismatic but untrustworthy Anthony (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams. At once enrapturing and mysteriously unsettling "The Souvenir" is an enigmatic and personal portrait of the artist as a young woman, combining passionate emotions and exquisite aesthetics into a lush, dreamlike story of young adulthood and first love.
The script for the film is a written and illustrated document about 30 pages long, which briefly describes the story. It includes photographs and drawings and also includes description of the internal lives of the characters, which of course is the one thing they always teach you not to do in school, but it's very useful. This road map of the journey ahead is shared with some cast and crew and not others, depending on what the film will be most impactful. In some ways, Hogg has been one of cinema’s best-kept secrets. Cineastes anxiously await her next film, even as she has remained largely unknown in 'The U.S.' With "The Souvenir", however, a wider audience may be exposed to her work for the first time; while the film is undeniably personal, it's also relatable and moving in it's profoundly heartbreaking and hypnotic story of a precarious first love and it's reverberating impact on a young woman’s life and art. The film arose from a desire to reflect on and transform her own beginnings as a filmmaker who broke the mold. This led to the creation of Julie, who's quietly contained yet also full of ambition, uncovering the confidence to express herself, yet entranced by the intellectual assurance of a man whos not what he seems.
The fictional character of Julie is a British film student, dazzled by cinema in her youth. She goes to film school in the 1980s, studying at 'England’s National Film And Television School', based at 'Beaconsfield Studios'. She finds herself seeking out a way of telling stories that would be neither stark social realism nor pure fairy tale. She spends a lot of time in Sunderland, photographing the northeastern port city, which, in 'The Thatcher Economy' of the ’80s, is dotted with a sign of the times; the hulls of dying shipyards. After school, Julie begins directing music videos and television, but also feeding her hunger for art and literature, waiting until she's ready to tell her own stories. Julie is a compassionate person, open to people from all walks of life and not really interested in judging people. She moves back and forth, in that young adult way, between the poles of confdence and hesitation, desire and responsibility, fragility and tenacity, imagination and delusion. Julie at once wants to expand her view of the world while urgently needing to protect herself and her dreams. It's a mesmerizingly compassionate and unguarded portrait of a fictional female filmmaker who resembles, at least in outline. Julie sweeps into a searing first romance by the alluring but complicated and perilous Anthony. Despite the undeniable passion between them, their unstable bond threatens to blow the lid off Julie’s dreams, even as she's just starting to come into her own. Someone trying to etch out her own creative voice even as she's alternately enchanted and disrupted by the ecstasies and damages of an all-consuming romance.
The film’s surging momentum is built on Julie’s intense, at times destructive, attraction to Anthony, which does not abate even when she realizes he isn’t exactly the dazzling figure she imagined when he first came into her life. For all that Julie does not see or want to see about Anthony, there's something powerful about the way he sees her, about the way he takes her seriously as a force in the world, the way he admires her restless mind. Though she calls herself ordinary, Julie quietly drinks it in when Anthony playfully calls her a freak and tells her that she's lost and will always be lost. Anthony transforms in the flm through incarnations both light and dark, alluring and wounding. Julie feels Anthony understands her on a deep level. His words flatter her, that she's lost and a freak, but also that she's special. They resonate with her innate lack of confidence in who she's. Also, from the first time they talk at Julie’s party, Anthony shows engagement in Julie’s passion for making films, despite later having a dig at her socially aware film ideas. Anthony’s love for the films of 'Michael Powell' and 'Emeric Pressburger', who upended the realism of early '20th Century' cinema to create vivid stories of passion and fantasy. One of the first great explorations of the incompatibility of love and ambition, "The Red Shoes"; becomes something catalytic for Julie. We don’t want to see life played out as is, we want to see life as it's experienced within this soft machine.
The film’s striking individual moments each seem to build upon each other into a mysterious accumulation, like the memory-laden pages of a photobook, capturing a time and a place but also a shifting internal world, as the audience experiences in concert with Julie doubt and wonder, insight and heartbreak. Rosalind, Julie’s mother, who's reserved and uncomprehending but also deeply caring, and who, unbeknownst to her, is financing both her daughter’s love affair and Anthony’s destructive behavior. Her current age pretty much matches that of our mothers at that time. We've an ongoing conversation about our parent's generation who grew up during 'The Second World War', about how this generation is dying out and how important it's to capture the specifcity of this generation. This is the perfect opportunity to take some of these ideas into a project. It refects Rosalind's own desire to not draw any heavy line between the personal and the work.
A good portion of "The Souvenir" unfolds in Julie’s book-lined apartment. It is very much a young woman’s space, not quite fully formed in some ways, but also a space in which solitude, passion, friendship, division, and love enter and depart like visitors. The detailed design of the apartment is closely based on Hogg’s memories of her own early ’80s student fat. The film recreates a finely-detailed replica of the interior that was once her home in an 'RAF Aircraft Hangar'. This also transferred to the music Julie listens to in her apartment, from 'Joe Jackson' to 'The Psychedelic Furs'. Though much of the flm takes place indoors, in living rooms and bedroom chambers, or in museums, restaurants, professor’s offces and sound stages, there are also moments when it comes away. In a pivotal, dream-like sequence, Julie and Anthony take a train to Venice, at a portentous juncture in their tryst, for a starry-eyed getaway to the opera. Here, the film also breaks into a lush elegance. It's important to show Julie and Anthony on a romantic journey, part of a 'Grand Tour' which proves Anthony’s commitment to a certain kind of lifestyle. It's very seductive to Julie despite her having to pay for the privilege of it. There's also a melancholy surrounding this mini-shoot in Venice, coming as it did at the end of the main shoot, but also knowing what happens when Julie and Anthony return.
Pivotal scenes in the early days of Anthony and Julie’s growing closeness take place in one of Anthony’s frequent haunts; 'The Wallace Collection'. This unique London museum showcases '17th', '18th', and '19th Century European' paintings, porcelain and furniture in the former home of 'The Marquesses Of Hertford', rife with an atmosphere of refnement and domesticity. The resonant precision of "The Souvenir’s" design opposes the woozy, disorienting chaos into which Julie and Anthony’s relationship falls, making it all the more affecting and mysterious. In fact, despite how tightly controlled the imagery might feel, with frames that mirror fgurative paintings, Hogg films almost entirely by intuition and improvisation, with a ferce devotion to uncovering emotional truth in the moment. The film puts to dynamic use a hauntingly static camera, which, amid our current appetite for distractions, seems to invite an almost electrifyingly intimate experience with the characters. The long shots open up space not only to dive into the emotional intoxication of Julie and Anthony’s desire and fantasies but also to depict the larger forces around them that can’t be contained. "The Souvenir" touches occasionally on fantasy realms, so it's fun to push those moments.
"The Souvenir" is strongly rooted in a particular moment in time; early 1980s Britain, a time of jarring shifts, as 'Thatcherism' began fundamentally revamping 'The British Economy', ushering in an era of austerity and deregulation. There was increased societal fragmentation but also a fresh wave of social and political engagement; rising unemployment yet heightened aspiration; 'IRA' bombing campaigns, miners strikes and industrial upheaval, but also a London renaissance, as post-Punk angst gave way to a greater diversity of cultural expression. If the economic realities of early '1980s Britain' often exacerbated class divisions, for some it also suggested a different way forward; consciously trying to reimagine a more fuid and diverse society where class would matter less. The film is far more interested in human dynamics than class dynamics, even if one cannot ever fully escape class in defning identity or even psychology. "The Souvenir" explores a young woman who resists the idea that class and background must be the inviolable signifers they're for previous generations.
Hogg has become renowned for her subterranean excavations of marital and familial relationships, and also for the distinctive feel of her films; with their mix of immersive precision, painterly frames and emotional force, her movies cast a spell. Here, her style merges thrillingly with classic romantic tragedy and a voyage of discovery. This beguiling tale of a dangerous, youthful love affair has the lived-in feeling of a powerful memory, a time capsule of the delicious messiness and dark seduction of one of those unsettling, volatile, unforgettable relationships that become part of who we're. Though Julie is transported to another world when she's with Anthony, she's also very much a product of, as well as someone refecting upon, her times. The specifcity of that's something the film builds through both character and design. In this case, the film also shares private artifacts; youthful diaries and notebooks that usually never see the light of day. The film conjures up a sense of the '80s, but not in a literal, slavish way. It’s more of an impression of that time, yet it could almost feel as if it's set now. "The Souvenir" mines the territory of not just what we experience in our most formative relationships, but what we take away; what's real, what's fantasy, and where they blend so fully that we can’t see where one ends or the other begins.