Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Sundance with Abe: The Souvenir

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

The Souvenir
Directed by Joanna Hogg
World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Creative people with the sharpest and most incisive talent are often most blinded by the negative elements in their own lives. A failure to see toxic influencers that they would easily be able to identify in their characters or works of art can be truly crippling, offering some inspiration but also holding them back from their true potential. Watching these portraits of the oppressed or dejected can be grueling, and any story featuring such a narrative must include a worthwhile backdrop and frame of reference in which to portray its protagonist’s misery and make it palatable.

Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) is a film student in the 1980s who meets a mysterious older man named Anthony (Tom Burke). Sharing that he works for the foreign service but little else, he becomes a consistent fixture in Julie’s life, staying with her for long periods of time and frequently asking her for money that she in turn borrows from her parents under the guise of needing film equipment. When she discovers that he is a regular drug user, Julie pauses to consider whether this man is right for her but is ultimately hopeless to resist his bullying charm.

Those watching this movie will likely want to yell at the screen whenever Anthony does something clearly manipulative to make Julie feel terrible about herself and essentially apologize for whatever he has done wrong. Anthony is an enigma, somehow busy and productive yet never really seen doing anything specific. Julie, on the other hand, is immersed in the filmmaking world, learning from those around her and managing to express a creative vision even while Anthony threatens to overwhelm her life with his selfish presence.

The undeniably strongest reason to see this film is the starring debut of Swinton-Byrne, whose real-life mother Tilda plays that same role here. Swinton-Byrne projects an aura of confidence and comfort, which makes her submissive relationship all the more disconcerting and magnetic to watch. Though he’s easy to hate, Burke also plays his part very well, making it clear just how Julia could be so relinquishing of her autonomy around him. This film is visually appealing, though its story runs considerably longer than it might need to. A previously-announced sequel from writer-director Joanna Hogg starring Swinton-Byrne and Robert Pattison should be worth watching, as the power of this film’s narrative ultimately outweighs its slow pacing.


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