From left, Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke and Honor Swinton Byrne in “The Souvenir.” (A24)

From left, Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke and Honor Swinton Byrne in “The Souvenir.” (A24)

Small details add up to a compelling story in ‘The Souvenir’

The film, about a young woman dallying with a sketchy older man, is challenging and hard to shake.

If you had a friend like Julie in “The Souvenir,” you’d sit down with her, have a serious talk and advise her as gently as possible to get rid of the slippery character she’d been dating for a while.

She wouldn’t listen to you, obviously, but at least you tried. You might have similar feelings while watching “The Souvenir” — that urge to step in and stop someone from doing something foolish — but the movie is so empathetic to its characters it makes you understand why Julie has to go through this traumatic experience.

I knew nothing about this film going into it, except that I liked English writer-director Joanna Hogg’s small-scaled previous work (including “Exhibition”). It doesn’t take long to sense that “The Souvenir” is a thinly veiled autobiography, and indeed the story is very close to Hogg’s own experience as a film student in the 1980s.

Julie is in a London grad school studying film, planning to create a serious documentary study of the working class — an atonement for her own privileged upbringing. She’s played by the quiet, thoughtful Honor Swinton Byrne, the daughter of Tilda Swinton, in her first major role. (Swinton, in a precise supporting turn, plays Julie’s mother.)

In a series of scenes so casual you almost don’t see a story developing, Julie meets an older man, Anthony (Tom Burke). He’s elegant, intelligent, and has some kind of government job. He also comes across as a pretentious twit, but Julie doesn’t see that side.

Anthony has bad habits that the audience will recognize sooner than Julie does. But the point here is not to guess at what will happen, but to see how beautifully the small details add up to a picture of souls in crisis.

Hogg works in a style that leaves out exposition, so we have to put the pieces together. The film feels like a memory exercise, where forgotten moments are left out, and the things that stick in the mind are left over.

One of the pleasures here is the way the movie evokes a moment — not specifically the 1980s, but the time before cellphones and the internet. David Raedeker’s cinematography is soft and warm, completely different from the razor-sharp harshness of digital photography. It’s a world of the past, yet there’s not a whiff of sentimentality about it.

Be advised: “The Souvenir” is a movie that makes you work to meet it halfway. It takes a while to understand what’s going on, and the characters are not “likable,” as they are required to be in most movies. Tap into its rhythm, however, and you’ll find this film hard to shake.

“The Souvenir” (4 stars)

English director Joanna Hogg’s film is an autobiographical story of a 1980s film student (thoughtful Honor Swinton Byrne, daughter of Tilda Swinton) who takes up a relationship with a questionable older man (Tom Burke). This challenging film doesn’t invite you to like its conflicted characters, but the small details add up to a very empathic portrait of souls in crisis.

Rating: R, for nudity, language

Opening: Meridian, Seattle 10

Talk to us

More in Life

Snohomish Historical Preservation Commission member Fred Cruger with his dog, Duffy, in Arlington along one of the history walk sections at Centennial Trail. The event will be up through September. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Discover local history as you walk the Centennial Trail

Take a smartphone quiz as you stroll the trail. If you answer every question correctly, you’ll win a prize.

A course of traffic-cone slaloms is one way to help teens improve their driving skills. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Her teen is putting pedal to the metal for accident avoidance

She signed the new driver up for an advanced collision avoidance class taught by Defensive Driving School.

Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, now a symbol of peace and reunification. (Rick Steves’ Europe)
Rick Steves: Today’s Berlin is freedom’s victory dance

Checkpoint Charlie is now a capitalist sideshow. You’ll be sold fake bits of the wall, WWII gas masks and DDR medals.

We need to make suicide prevention a public health priority

The pandemic has impacted our mental well-being. Be on the lookout for suicidal behavior.

The Sauk River rushes by near a popular boat launch area close to White Chuck Mountain off the Mountain Loop Highway, just outside of Darrington. (Daniella Beccaria / Herald file)
Outdoors classes and activities around Snohomish County

The listings include Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest updates and REI Lynnwood workshops.

2020 Jeep Renegade adds more features for lower trim levels

All models have a new telematics unit, and a 9-speaker Kenwood premium audio system is available.

The “Fluffy” arborvitae has the ability to light up a Northwest landscape with its golden needles. (Proven Winners)
Gold tones of ‘Fluffy’ conifers make the landscape sparkle

It’s a new variety of Thuja plicata, native to the Pacific coast, known as western arborvitae.

Blue leadwort is a low-growing perennial that acts as a colorful groundcover for the garden. (Getty Images)
A few perennial gems to help brighten up the fall garden

He can’t help but find new treasures to plant each time he visits the nursery. Here are four he added recently.

The double-flowered autumn crocus has large lavender-pink blooms that resemble waterlilies. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Colchicum ‘Waterlily,’ double-flowered autumn crocus

This bulb features large double lavender-pink blooms that resemble waterlilies in the fall.

Most Read