Saturday, June 1, 2019

Joanna Hogg's masterful "The Souvenir" at AMC 10: May 31 - Jun 13

Resembling in some ways the cinema of the French auteurs Eric Rohmer and Claire Denis, themselves of differing generations and sensibilities, Joanna Hogg has delivered a film of muted, intimate riches. Earning it some of the highest praise of any film in recent years. Reporting for, Monica Castillo cites the film's depiction of a troubling romance and it's divisive qualities, particularly among contemporary audiences unwilling, or unable to parse such contradictions; "From its Sundance premiere, I heard grumblings about its main character, Julie, and the frustrations some felt with her decision to stay in a clearly toxic relationship. For me, “The Souvenir” is perhaps the most empathetic movie to capture that kind of bad romance, the way it seeps into every aspect of your life, the way it changes your behavior, how you hold onto the memories of good times when things get rough and how after it ends, you're a changed person. “The Souvenir” doubles as a reference to the unseen but still painful bruises you can get with a relationship as rocky as theirs. Some days, I miss those rose-colored glasses, but I have the bruises to remind me why I took them off in the first place." Plumbed in her interview with Film Comment, through Hogg's architectural eye for shots, pacing and structure, the film delivers a rarely judgmental observation on the joys and heartbreaking pain of these contradictions.

Shifting in tone from suggestively ominous, to rapturously romantic (as in the sequence of a brief sojourn in Venice), to the simple pleasures of time spent listening to music, conversing with friends, working on art in the late hours, to heart swellingly romantic moments bracketed by the everyday mundane and the tragically nihilistic. "The Souvenir"'s breadth of dramatic scenarios is harmonized by a minor-key tonal palette, often asserting a hushed, cloistered reality over the proceedings. These are most tangibly described by the intellectually searching, sometimes bruising, sometimes supportive plumbing of life between it's protagonist Julie, and her troubled, compromised, philosophical romantic partner, Anthony. More than just, "A Great Movie About a Bad Boyfriend", as the title of A.O. Scott's review for The New York Times implies, their shared synergy, conflicts, aspirations and humiliations initially are found to pivot around Anthony's undisclosed and secretive life troubles. Punctuated by the arrival of postcards as stopgaps, implying the passage of time and shifting relations between its protagonists, the structure is largely linear, with brief poetic digressions voicing moments of inner reflection. Over time we witness Julie begin to break loose from the constraints of these influences, as her denial gives way to necessary recognition and an, "Opening Up the Privileged World From Which She Emerged". Through loss and pain, coming to recognize herself outside of these external conditions, we see a decisively different course for her own art and pursuit of identity. The cumulative effect of this great film of small moments, is Joanna Hogg's "'The Souvenir' is a Masterly Coming-of-Age Portrait", that invests great belief in its audience and the unguarded candor of experience lived.