This is a random time to post this review, since I actually saw this film in October, but as soon as I watched it, I found that it really resonated with me, and was on my lunch break at work the next day… and this review sort of poured out of me. In respect to the note form, I’ve left it un-edited, but I may do a full analysis of this film, or explore Joanna Hogg’s work more because a sequel to this film is coming out this year!
There is a scene at the beginning of this film in which Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) and her new lover Anthony (Tom Burke) go on a date in the Wallace Collection, and become entranced by a painting called ‘The Souvenir’. The Fragonard piece centres around a woman carving the initials of her lover onto a tree. Julie comments, “She looks sad,” to which Anthony responds “I think she looks determined. And very much in love.” In a similar way, this story may be perceived as a tragedy, or, as Hogg has decided to frame it, as a relationship that while sad, shaped her early career and framed her development as an artist.
‘The Souvenir’ is based on Hogg’s own experiences when she was at film school; she is the lover in the act of carving her lover’s name, in remembrance of what once was.
This is a largely a sad story, but time for reflection has clearly opened Hoggs eyes to the complexity of those early relationships where, for good or bad, you devote yourself entirely to one person, and can completely alter the framework of who you are, and how you experience everything.
Julie’s loyalty towards Anthony is inexplicable at times, however it creates a rare narrative of depicting a turbulent relationship without overtly villainising the person opposite our protagonist. His actions are often questionable; however Hogg keeps the camera’s gaze at a distance, refusing to colour the audience’s view of either character. In an age of spoon-fed characters, it is so refreshing to see a character like Julie so unashamedly strong in a very human way. She carries with her a true sense of feminine strength, not through power, but through making her own assertions, and sticking to them. She may make bad decisions at times, but she powers through and finds a better sense of self and artistic fulfilment by f*cking up, but still coming out the other side of it.
This film is a quietly controlled, visually stunning observation of a moment in Hogg’s life that feels like the Japanese art of kintsugi where they fix broken vases by forging it together with gold: something, once broken, transformed into something beautiful.