You can call The Souvenir “patient” or “contemplative” or “ascetic” or even just “French,” since it plays like a French film even though it’s entirely in English. Joanna Hogg’s drama is remarkable in its quiet way, as it tells its coming-of-age story mined from the filmmaker’s own past.
In her first movie role, Honor Swinton Byrne stars as Julie, a film student in the 1980s who attracts sneers from colleagues and professors as a wealthy London girl wanting to make a feature about shipyard workers in Sunderland. However, Julie’s life is upended when she falls for an older man from the Foreign Office (Tom Burke) who shows her the Fragonard painting that shares the film’s title and takes her impulsively to Venice to see the opera. He also steals jewelry and camera equipment from her, and when she sees track marks on his arm, she believes his explanation that it was an accident.
Hogg’s filmmaking is static but sharp and stylish, as she frequently shows characters reflected in mirrors or divided by walls in their London apartment. The film is filled out with much discussion of movies completely unlike this one (Psycho, Hollywood musicals, Diva) that helps create the artistic milieu that Julie inhabits. It’s anchored by Byrne, a tall actress who manages to look small and recessive. (Her real-life mother, Tilda Swinton, shows up here as Julie’s sensible mother.) This is the sort of film that supposedly isn’t made anymore, and its story about an artist finding her voice is wrenching in its own way.
The Souvenir runs Fri-Sun at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St, FW. Tickets are $8-10. Call 817-738-9215.