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The Souvenir

The past never stays in focus.

Remember the name Honor Swinton Byrne – her star is born. In The Souvenir, she plays Julie, a film student in 1980s London who’s being set up to learn a lot of things the hard way. Written and directed by the bracingly brilliant Joanna Hogg, this delicate, dazzling memoir traces her own origin story, and there is something superheroic about her struggle to look back without hitting the brick wall of formula and weepy nostalgia.

Poster for the coming-of-age romance The SouvenirIt helps enormously that 24-year-old Swinton Byrne, in a breakout debut performance, plays Julie with such a striking blend of naivete and inchoate passion. (She’s the daughter of Tilda Swinton, who plays Julie’s wealthy mother Rosalind.) Julie feels being rich is getting in the way of her art since her privilege is ill suited to the working-class film she is making: a student project about a boy growing up in the slums. What can Julie, always keeping her distance and in life, know of that?

Her inferiority complex intensifies when she meets Anthony, an alternately fascinating and repellant older man played by the excellent Tom Burke. As this compelling stranger wheedles his way into Julie’s life, judging her harshly and mansplaining in an irritatingly posh accent, you want to tell her to run.

Hogg catches the artist as a young woman in the hypnotic act of inventing herself, first as a student struggling to discover her own film language and then as a lover who must find the strength to break out of a self-imposed bubble. The effect is shattering.

– Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

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