In Joanna Hogg’s new film, The Souvenir, the 21-year-old protagonist, Julie (played by Honor Swinton Byrne), lives in a bubble. She strains against this fact, telling her film-school professors and the interesting people she meets at parties that she wants to venture beyond her sphere, to capture real life on her camera, to document the economic hardships gripping 1980s Britain. But Hogg, who’s telling the autobiographical story of her own experiences as a young woman, takes pains to show how hermetic Julie’s life actually is.
The Souvenir is a coming-of-age film about the various rites of passage into adulthood—living alone, falling in love—but it’s also about the stasis and adversity Julie has to fight at the same time. It’s a staggering movie from a director who has never had a major release in the United States before, one filled with such insight and promise that Hogg is already at work on a sequel. In telling Julie’s story, Hogg harnesses one of her favorite cinematic devices—long scenes of dialogue that unfold with barely a camera movement—to delve into a relationship that tempts, tortures, and transforms her main character in ways both good and bad.
The film charts Julie’s romance with a confident, posh-seeming gentleman named Anthony (Tom Burke), who shakes up Julie’s life as they begin a passionate but troubled affair that distracts her from her studies. Hogg creates a world that sings with ordinary details. The Souvenir takes place almost entirely indoors, mostly in Julie’s apartment, which gives the movie a locked-in feeling. Though viewers wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell, nearly every set was built inside a colossal airplane hangar—a location that itself features in some of the final shots. In these later scenes, Hogg treats the hangar as a kind of metaphorical shelter, a chrysalis for Julie to break out of as she learns to stop being dependent on the people around her.