The review contains a discussion of the characters but no major spoilers. Won the Grand Jury Prize for Best International Drama at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Also a 2020 Independent Spirit Award nominee for Best International Film.
Set in the UK in the 1980s, a semi-autobiographical story about the director (Joanna Hogg) as a young artist in the form of film student Julie. Probably will be best remembered for the performance of Tilda Swinton’s daughter Honor Swinton Byrne. The two Swinton’s play mother and daughter on screen.
Twentysomething Julie (Honor Swinton) behaves stupidly as she knows what her boyfriend is up to. Maybe she wanted to escape her overprotective parents no matter if the alternative was dubious. There’s a sense she’s too nice and loves Anthony (Tom Burke) despite his behaviour. She is most likely attracted to his experience and knowledge since he is a few years her senior. Perhaps Julie used Anthony as material for her film work, he is a mysterious, secretive man. Her privileged background also plays a part in the relationship and in her film projects.
Joanna Hogg: “I was very interested—first and foremost, really—in portraying the development of a young woman artist. I think that came out of a frustration at often seeing the lives of male artists portrayed”
The characters are interesting enough to interpret so a pity the two leads have poor chemistry. Apparently the two actors met each other with no rehearsal on the first day of shooting. A missed opportunity with some mystery (as suggested by the poster above), but with little emotion and difficult to care about the characters. Julie grows through meeting new people and the film has been described as a coming of age self-portrait set in and around film school. A dinnner conversation with friend Patrick (Richard Ayoade) is a highlight, taking us behind the scenes of life as film students/filmmakers.
Part of the narrative is an 80s nostalgia trip with the filmmaker going so far as to use the gold gilt bed Hogg owned at the time, and recreating the apartment environment she lived in. There’s also a soundtrack of music from the era and some opera.
As Hogg expressed: “It was important to furnish the set of Flat L with these personal items. They were very much the key to accessing my memories and feelings from that time”.
The title is a reference to the painting The Souvenir by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (above) which the couple talk about at a gallery, and there is a homage to it later on. The director was asked about the significance of the painting in an interview: “I was shown that painting by the man that I knew at the time, and it was important, though it was less important to me and more important to him”.
The Rotten Tomatoes score is polarizing from critics (90%) and audiences (34%).
Hogg has a follow-up in the works and said that part 2 “is not a sequel in a traditional sense”.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome