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Updated: Mar 20, 2020

In her movie "The Souvenir," writer director Joanna Hogg explores a toxic and slowly debilitating love affair like one she experienced decades ago. Coming from the heart, "The Souvenir" captures the mixed and difficult emotions it portrays, often taking on some of the situation's same traits with slow pacing and frustrating actions. It tells the story of a coddled young woman, a film school student whose support network fails to provide her with the harsh attention she needs. She gets it from a somewhat older man, one who hooks her by giving her helpful advice and insight while — at the same time — mistreating her.

With naturalistic dialogue, actors Honor Swinton Byrne and Tom Burke show an ease together that ease that feels pulled from life. Both embody their characters perfectly, without flashy histrionics of any kind. Newcomer Byrne's presence with distinct and appealingly non-traditional features, draws the camera to her as she conveys her feelings clearly but with small, subtle expressions. She comes by some of her skill genetically, joined by her real-life parent Tilda Swinton for effectively presented mother-daughter scenes.

Working without detailed written dialogue, all actors talk in a manner found in real situations, interrupting or overlapping some comments, and never breaking into scripted definitive lines that quickly summarize a moment. Like real life, this process takes its time getting anywhere. No single act or symbol illuminates the project, though its title comes from a specific painting called "The Souvenir." Located at London's Wallace Collection, the 1778 Rococo-era painting by Jean Honore Fragnard shows a lovely young woman in a flouncy pink and white dress carving initials into a tree after reading a letter from her lover. The painting has a story to tell, calling to the movie's main character by implying an obsessive love whose end seems uncertain.

With links to painters and scenes involving the process of filmmaking, "The Souvenir" proves an arthouse movie through and through, one that will never appeal to mainstream fans of superhero antics.


This review was originally aired on 6/13/2019.

You can listen to it online at

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