Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Souvenir (Film by Joanna Hogg)

There is a cinema within walking distance of my house. I can’t remember the last time I went there. I’m not really a cinephile, I'm happy watching the classics on TV or DVD. The Souvenir by Joanna Hogg is not a mainstream film, but obviously I wanted to see it because Tom Burke was the male lead in it. The film isn’t released in the UK until 30th August 2019, although my local Curzon cinema was showing it 20th July, at 11am. I say my local Curzon cinema…it’s 40+ miles away, but what is 40 miles to see a film when I’m prepared to go to the other end of the country to see Tom in a play?!

My friend and I met at the cinema, got a cookie and a cuppa (served on a china plate) and went forth into this intimate cinema screening, where there were small side tables by the seats…and reclining chairs! I’m so easily pleased. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film, I knew the subject matter was likely to be harrowing, but at least I would be in comfort when my eyes started to leak.

Where purity of soul meets morality...

To put some context into the film, “The Souvenir” on which the film is entitled, is an enchanting painting by Jean-HonorĂ© Fragonard, completed in 1778. It depicts a young girl who has received a letter from her lover (which lies discarded on the ground) carving her lovers initials in the truck of a tree. Her devoted dog, a spaniel, a symbol of fidelity, stares towards her. The sale catalogue of 1792 states the girl is the heroine of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s epistolary novel Julie (or New Heloise.) The protagonists are Julie, of privileged descent and Saint Preux her tutor and a commoner. The story follows a complex maze of feelings and intellectual debate, where purity of soul is entwined with morality, and the fate of these two lovers is left to the effects of the society in which they live. (If you haven’t read the novel, think along the lines of when Tom narrated Pamela by Samuel Richardson – as I’m sure many readers will have listened to Tom’s work!)

This small painting measuring a mere 19x25 cm is housed in the Wallace Collection in London, and whilst small manages to evoke a serious of emotions and questions. How will this love affair work out for this girl of such innocence and purity? Will it end in joy or sorrow? Is there more to this girl than meets the eye? Is she as fragile as she looks, or is there a hidden strength and determination to her?

British director Joanna Hogg uses her own life experiences to produce a film which is mesmerising, xxx and xxx about her early life as a film student, and echoes elements of the painting. Honor Swinton Byrne plays Julie, the awkward, yet privileged film student, whilst Tom Burke plays her suave and sophisticated older boyfriend Anthony. But looks can be deceiving, there is more to Tom’s character than meets the eye, and there is a hidden strength apparent in Honor’s portrayal of Julie. These are world class performances and worthy of all plaudits that both actors have and will receive for this film.

I was transfixed