Wait until you can stream it…
Going to art galleries is not for everyone. They are quiet and require a lot of attention and a lot of patience. Joanna Hogg’s latest film, The Souvenir, is (aptly) named after a painting. One cannot help but liken it to the experience of walking through an art gallery. If you have the patience, there is a lot to enjoy, namely the performances and the skilled cinematography.
Ultimately, The Souvenir’s pacing will decide whether you enjoy this film or not. It does not move as quickly as the snap of a camera taking a photograph; rather, it goes as slowly as someone getting their portrait painted. There is no score. Do not expect the memorable theme accompanying Downton Abbey, another British film, released this month, about the upper class. (Although, there are some well-chosen songs in The Souvenir’s eclectic soundtrack, which ranges from classical music to songs by The Pretenders.) Many of the takes are long and static. Tom Burke’s performance is defined as much by his two words per minute vocal delivery as well as the character’s supercilious nature. This is a film for the patient. If you want a hectic, exciting movie, this is not for you. If you are patient, then there is a lot to enjoy.
The cinematography is meticulous and carefully thought out. Every shot feels carefully chosen so that the film is constantly suggesting ideas to its audience, even when very little is happening on screen. A few examples, from early in the film, depict Julie and Anthony being constantly separated by barriers, whether that be a bed, or a wall. There is always something separating them, as if to suggest that their relationship will struggle to gel together properly.
All of the shots in this film are taken at a distance. There are shots from behind so that we can only see the characters’ backs, shots of their reflections, and shots taken from far away and at an incline. This suggests the privileged bubble these characters occupy. Julie lives in a world completely alien and far-removed from the world she wants to make a film about. Knightsbridge, London is on the opposite end of the class scale from Sunderland. This disconnect between artist and subject is reflected in the considered cinematography.
Honor Swinton Byrne gives a subtle performance as Julie. She is soft and shy. Delicate. She captures her character’s vulnerability and quiet but grand ambition perfectly. This contrasts heavily with the parasitic, arrogant and unlikeable Anthony. Tom Burke does a brilliant job of presenting Anthony as a sinister, toxic inverse of the “Hugh Grant” type. The sharp contrast makes Julie more relatable and likeable. Yes, she is incredibly privileged, but at least she did not turn out like Anthony. Further, their toxic relationship is a struggle which most audiences can relate. Swinton Byrne’s understated and convincing performance rewards the audience for their patience.
This is the portrait of an artist, a filmmaker. It is rather fitting that the film’s title comes from a portrait, then. At times, the film itself feels like a portrait. Honor Swinton Byrne provides a convincing performance, realistically captured by well-crafted direction and cinematography. If you are patient enough, the complete picture is worth the wait.