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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

The Souvenir

Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical drama The Souvenir is a beautiful look at first love through the lens of an extraordinary artist we’re with every step of the way. Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is a young and ambitious film student in early 1980s England who wants to create cinema that is far away from the privileged life she’s lived. She soon meets Anthony, (Tom Burke) a slightly older man who takes interest in her sincere intellect and begins courting her by recommending films, taking her to nice places and disagreeing with her that she’s normal. Julie enjoys his company and always allows Anthony to borrow money every time he asks.


Anthony however is too good to be true. He has a heroin addiction that Julie did not see coming. Nevertheless, she still wants him and sticks by him. As time goes by, the relationship doesn't freeze but some ice starts to show. Julie is not the first person and certainly not the last woman to stand so loyally by someone with an addiction so severe.

Unfortunately for her, Anthony has no intention of making things easier for her if it means he has to work too hard. The hardest part of it all is the unpredictability. You never know what their day will be like. He’ll say some pretty nasty things to her some days and other days will be just fine. It all sounds so familiar doesn't it? Way too many people have to go through this, you wouldn't even know if you’re one of them until it gets that bad.


Honor Swinton Byrne’s performance is as refreshing as a venti passion fruit iced tea from Starbucks. Films about ambitious women who continually stay in unhealthy relationships have been done time and time again. What makes The Souvenir so special is that Julie as an individual does not need this relationship to give her a story a platform. She’s already a big story on her own. An unhealthy relationship is just something she experiences along the way.


The sad thing about Tom Burke’s performance is that it constantly reminds us that without his addiction, things would be perfect. Both he and Julie are massively intelligent and they have a lot in common. It’s clear his addiction’s lasted a long time but he does a really good job of hiding it. With his charming tones and fancy suits, he’s the last person you’d expect to be harboring something so awful. You never really know people, can you?

Tilda Swinton (Honor Swinton Byrne’s real mother)’s portrayal of Julie’s mother, Rosalind is lovingly tender. She’s the kind of person who’ll make your throat close up without taking away your ability to breathe. She is the great good fairy of The Souvenir. She expresses concern towards her daughter in a very gentle and kind fashion. Though Julie doesn't listen, Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of someone who never says I Told You So will make a major impact on audiences. You can tell these two are peas in a pod in real life.


My favorite scene is towards the end when the two of them are up late on the couch waiting for Anthony and when it’s clear he’s not coming, Swinton doesn't even say so. She just lovingly tells her daughter they should go to bed. Julie is in a state of emotional defeat at this point. She can’t deny the truth of her relationship anymore. She allows her mother to take her from the coach and tuck her in bed with all her stuffed animals. No matter how old you get, you’re always your mother’s child and Julie’s mother is someone she can take great comfort in.


Despite what Anthony is emotionally doing to Julie, Rosalind knows he’s not trying to hurt her. He just does because he’s stopped trying and is just waiting for Julie to leave him. Regardless, Rosalind still cares about him. She’s worried when she discovers his addiction but she’s still as welcoming as she was when they met. Before going to bed, she has Julie tape a note on the front door that should Anthony arrive, he can ring the bell and not worry about waking them up. To me this shows that Tilda Swinton really portrays herself in a big way. She IS the mother to the young woman she’s acting next to and she showers her daughter with unconditional love.


I don’t know its rating on my scale as of yet, but I can promise you all The Souvenir’s going on my top 10 2019 film list. It’s one of the best films of the year and I very much look forward to seeing it again.

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