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The Souvenir

One of the year’s best dramas is currently in theaters.

Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Metacritic score: 94

The Souvenir doesn’t knit its threads together too tightly; it asks us to weave ourselves in. Joanna Hogg’s extraordinary memoir-in-a-film is about a youthful romance gone very sour, and it unfolds as a cascade of memories. Characters are not introduced so much as they first appear in the background of a scene and then, in the next, become central. Sometimes we catch a quick glimpse of a half-focused face, and by the time we figure out what we’re looking at, we’re on to the next moment. There’s a meal here, a glance there, a still landscape while a letter is read in voiceover. Sometimes days or weeks elapse between scenes, pushing time inexorably forward.

Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton star in art-imitates-life turns as daughter and mother, alongside Tom Burke as the younger woman’s ill-fated boyfriend. With outstanding performances from all three and a visual style marked by just a hint of sepia-tinted reminiscence, The Souvenir clearly stands out as one of the year’s best films: pointedly personal art that somehow manages, in its specificity, to hit on something universal. It’s an exquisite work of remembrance and reckoning.

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