SUNDANCE REVIEW — “The Souvenir”
Starring Greta Gerwig’s doppelganger
The Souvenir is written and directed by Joanna Hogg and stars Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, and Tilda Swinton. It tells the story of A young film student in the early 80s who becomes romantically involved with a complicated and untrustworthy man. Next in our series of Sundance Film Festival reviews is The Souvenir. This generated a lot of buzz at the festival, it won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Cinema and anything with A24 behind it will greatly peak my interest, so it’s safe to say, I was looking forward to this one. So, having seen it, was it worth the hype? Not really. I do have to say, I am a bit puzzled by all the hype this film has garnered because I found The Souvenir to be a largely lifeless, pretentious, and at times taxing experience. I had to fight to stay awake and found the film to be puzzlingly empty. This really wasn’t for me.
Joanna Hogg writes and directs here and I can tell she had a lot to say, but by the end, it just feels pretentious and hollow. She introduces a lot of ideas but seldom develops them. She shifts from theme to theme are rarely has anything unique or interesting to say about each topic. As a result, The Souvenir feels very unfocused and overly long. It starts as a story of a girl trying to find her voice as a filmmaker and shifts to a story about toxic relationships, to a story about an overbearing mother, to a critic on the filmmaking industry to tons of other things and while these aren’t necessarily bad topics to cover, none of them feel fully realized. Hoagg is attempting to communicate a lot with The Souvenir, and unfortunately, I don’t think she successfully said anything with it.
As far as acting goes, everyone does a fine job. Honor Swinton Byrne does a good as our main character and shows a very convincing arch with her character, she’s just not given much to do. Tilda Swinton, while brief, does an expectedly great job. Her chemistry with Honor is great, which can be expected due to the fact that Tilda Swinton is her real mother. Tom Burke does a fine job, I just never got a good sense of who his character was, but that may have been the point. Overall, the acting is fine, it just feels so disconnected.
On a technical level, there’s nothing too remarkable here. I found the cinematography distractingly stylized. It will shift between styles and color grading and while it clearly was intentional, it didn’t add much to the film. The film just feels so cold and distant. The entire film felt like the first act of something and I was waiting for the real film start, and it never did. This may be due to the fact that there is a Part 2 coming out, but I don’t care to see where it goes. This film can be boiled down to the statement, “It’s a metaphor”, but it lacks any personality or vision. For a film being praised for how personal it is, it never seemed to connect.
Overall, I didn’t hate The Souvnier. There is a lot of talent on display here, I just found it incredibly misguided. 2/5