A Keeper?

The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019)

For a good chunk of this film I sat there wondering who it was playing Anthony.

There’s no mistaking Honor Swinton Byrne, playing Julia, a privileged neophyte film maker, as her mother’s daughter, and Tilda Swinton May even be playing close to her own age as Julia’s mother, a good years older than she appeared in The Dead Don’t Die. And that actor playing someone who looks like Richard Ayaode is Richard Ayaode.

But Anthony had a whiff of Dylan Moran about him, and perhaps Rufus Sewell, but wasn’t. In fact it was Tom Burke, and I’d had exactly the same problem with him in Rosmerholm.

The film isn’t about Antony, but rather about Julia, who lives in her parents’ pied á terre in Kensington in the 1980s and wants to make a film. At a party she meets Tom, and begins what is evidently an argumentative but warm and platonic relationship which in time becomes sexual. He is older than her and, despite working in the Foreign Office, never seems to have any money.

One of this film’s problems, and I’ll get to the other one, is that it never quite explains why she allows him to stay with him. She’s smart, and in time kicks him out, but she always takes him back even though he repeatedly betrays her. I know such things happen, but you risk shouting at the screen.

It can’t just be that he’s taken her to the Wallace Collection to see Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting that gives the film its name.

Swinton Byrne is radiant throughout and has the same fearlessness that her mother displays. This isn’t quite her first film — see I am Love, if you must — but it might as well be. Apparently she didn’t have the whole script and her scenes were filmed in order, so the big reveal would have been a surprise. I suspect much of her dialogue is improvised, especially dealing with the film school staff.

Julia is, it transpires, Joanna, and there was an Anthony, and part of my heart sinks at the aspiring filmmaker genre, although it is rare to have a woman in the role. Hogg had bumped into Derek Jarman and borrowed a camera, and cast Tilda Swinton in an early film, thus gifting him with his finest actor. She has absorbed his avant garde tastes and nonlinearity, although I suspect this adds a half hour to the film that could be trimmed. It clocks in at a long two hours, simultaneously gripping and the wrong kind of glacial.

And then, as the credits roll we see that Martin Scorsese is executive producer and a sequel is in the works. Both of these come as surprises, but probably aren’t bad things.

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