At a premiere for The Souvenir at Sundance earlier this year, dozens were turned away from a packed house — and nearly as many began to filter back out within the first hour. The ones who chose to stay, though, were mesmerized. That’s the divisive power of British auteur Joanna Hogg, whose movies demand a strange sort of surrender, but reward it with the rare experience of cinema that soaks into your consciousness and stays there.
Her latest — the first of a projected semiautobiographical diptych — follows Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a privileged young Londoner who also dreams of making movies. In the meantime, she mostly goes to film school, lounges at smoke-filled house parties, and has decorous, silverware-clinking dinners with her genteel parents (including the actress’ Oscar-winning real-life mother, Tilda Swinton, in an impressively immobile wig).
Then comes romance, in the form of a dry-witted rake named Anthony (Tom Burke). He says he does something with the Foreign Office, though how he really spends his time is a mystery, and the bills for white-gloved restaurants and weekends in Venice increasingly slide over to Julie. Is Anthony a grifter, an addict, or just too obliviously posh to be troubled by the grubby realities of money?
Hogg builds her elliptical love story like a memory palace: immersive, impressionist moments arranged only in the most loosely linear way. But the story casts a spell, and Swinton Byrne is a milky, beguiling presence; it’s almost as if you’re watching her become a person in real time. A–
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