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

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Camp Fire attendees pose after playing in the water. (Photo courtesy by Camp Fire)
The best childcare in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied. Here are the results.

Mukilteo Police Chief Andy Illyn and the graphic he created. He is currently attending the 10-week FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. (Photo provided by Andy Illyn)
Help wanted: Unicorns for ‘pure magic’ career with Mukilteo police

“There’s a whole population who would be amazing police officers” but never considered it, the police chief said.

To most, tiles are utilitarian. To some, they’re a sought-after art form.

Collectors particularly prize tiles made by early 20th century art potteries. This Wheatley piece sold for $216 at auction.

Spring plant sales in Snohomish County

Find perennials, vegetable starts, shrubs and more at these sales, which raise money for horticulture scholarships.

beautiful colors of rhododendron flowers
With its big, bright blooms, Washington’s state flower is wowing once again

Whether dwarf or absolutely ginormous, rhodies put on a grand show each spring. Plus, they love the Pacific Northwest.

Whidbey duo uses fencing to teach self-discipline, sportsmanship to youth

Bob Tearse and Joseph Kleinman are sharing their sword-fighting expertise with young people on south Whidbey Island.

Craig Chambers takes orders while working behind the bar at Obsidian Beer Hall on Friday, April 12, 2024, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Obsidian Beer Hall takes over former Toggle’s space in downtown Everett

Beyond beer, the Black-owned taphouse boasts a chill vibe with plush sofas, art on the walls and hip-hop on the speakers.

Glimpse the ancient past in northeast England

Hadrian’s Wall stretches 73 miles across the isle. It’s still one of England’s most thought-provoking sights.

I accidentally paid twice for my hotel. Can I get a refund?

Why did Valeska Wehr pay twice for her stay at a Marriott property in Boston? And why won’t Booking.com help her?

How do you want your kids to remember you when they grow up?

Childhood flies by, especially for parents. So how should we approach this limited time while our kids are still kids?

Dalton Dover performs during the 2023 CMA Fest on Friday, June 9, 2023, at the Spotify House in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

The Red Hot Chili Pipers come to Edmonds, and country artist Dalton Dover performs Friday as part of the Everett Stampede.

Lily Gladstone poses at the premiere of the Hulu miniseries "Under the Bridge" at the DGA Theatre, Monday, April 15, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Mountlake Terrace’s Lily Gladstone plays cop in Hulu’s ‘Under the Bridge’

The true-crime drama started streaming Wednesday. It’s Gladstone’s first part since her star turn in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.