Joanna Hogg always insisted that The Souvenir’s story is autobiographical: based on her life during film school and focused on an ill-fated affair. But that seems irrelevant for what makes the film so special: It’s richly expressive beauty that tells more than any narrative construct about the desires and inner turmoil of the main character (played splendidly by Honor Swinton Byrne, with her real-life mum Tilda also as her movie mum).
Some people were driven almost nuts by the fact that Hogg refuses to offer any psychological hints at her protagonist’s inner workings: Why does she stay with a well-bred junkie? Make that: No psychological hints of the realism-variety, no explanatory words and phrases, nothing that makes matters debatable inside certain well-established behavioural patterns – zero.
Instead, Hogg focuses on the sensual aspects: The couple’s shared rhythms and rituals, the closeness and sense of security often expressed in harmonious colour patterns, etc. The film’s most gorgeous sequence is a trip to Venice for which she dresses up in a style: a very beautiful, somewhat 50s’ish dress tailored especially for the occasion. She wants to get lost in a dream – maybe the same way we all want to when we watch a movie? Maybe, The Souvenir is a film about our longing for life to be like a film or a dream, and the tickets we are willing to punch for that… A masterpiece, nothing less!
Joanna Hoff (b. 1960) had a most unusual art trajectory: She started out making Super-8 shorts in the company of Derek Jarman; went only then to film school which she finished with a vividly eccentric work called Caprice (1986) featuring Tilda Swinton; cut her creative teeth for some twenty years on music videos and TV episodes, all culminating in the off-beat EastEnders special Dot’s Story (2003); before she finally was able to present her feature debut, Unrelated (2007). This wide apprenticeship is reflected in some unusual preferences, eg. casting artists like landscape painter Christopher Baker (in Archipelago, 2010) or Slits guitarist Viv Albertine and Relationism theorist/practitioner Liam Gillick (in Exhibition, 2013) in her films. She’s a genius. (Olaf Möller)