A gem of a film, shot with powdery perfection, Joanna Hogg’s multilayered memoir of self discovery, artistic dreams, class privilege and the pains of first love solidifies her place at the forefront of new British cinema. A top notch cast is lead by Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke and Tilda Swinton.
The Souvenir is refrigerated and mysterious: uncompromising, uningratiating: an artefact in the highest auteur register, but a film that creeps up on you – from behind. There’s a challenging absence of obvious readability, particularly with regard to the vital issue of tone. In some ways, it’s like a psychological drama without the drama or an ironic satire without the irony – or not much irony anyway. (Perhaps the nearest thing to playfulness is the deadpan announcement over the closing credits that The Souvenir II is on its way — the way they used to trail the upcoming James Bond.)
As with other Hogg films, there is an austere, unemphasised plainness. Closeups are rare. Hogg conducts her dramatic business in a sort of indoor available light, with characters often quite simply going into semi-darkness if they walk away from windows: a look Hogg has contrived in her other films, no matter what cinematographer she is working with. Most distinctively, it is a film about the upper classes, but not in the Downton Abbey style: it is about the upper classes as they actually are, in the dull day-to-day, a social realist movie about posh people. It’s as if Hogg has found a contemporary English response to the rhetoric of Antonioni or Visconti.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian