Director of ‘The Souvenir’ on heroin addiction, attraction and the allure of cinema

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Tom Burke and Honor Swinton Byrne in “The Souvenir.” Photo by Simone Falso, courtesy of A24.

When Johanna Hogg was a film student in the 1980s, she fell in love with someone who ended up being a thief and drug addict. But she couldn’t pull away from the toxic relationship.

That experience is the basis for her new movie “The Souvenir.” Honor Swinton Byrne plays the Johanna character, who’s named Julie in the film.

“Souvenir” means “memory” in French. Hogg tells Press Play that it wasn’t easy to look back at her younger self. “It was quite uncomfortable to face that young woman who questioned everything, was very unsure of herself in some ways, but very confident in other ways.”

In the film, Julie meets Anthony, and they go to an art museum where they see Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting “The Souvenir.” Hogg says she first saw the painting at age 20, when a young man she was dating took her to the Wallace Collection in London. “This painting was something he already loved, and I thought it was exquisite. But there was something quite intimidating about being faced with this young woman who’s clearly in love and remembering something… I thought, well do I already mean something to this man? And I didn't yet know who he was. I wasn't yet in love with him,” she says.

Julie allows Anthony to take over her life. She stops going to school for a while. He steals from her. At one point, he reveals his heroin addiction.

“Julie had already fallen for Anthony, so there was no going back at that point because that's what happened to me. I was very much seduced by this character who's passionate about cinema. And cinema was what I was passionate about,” she says. “It's incredibly seductive to be drawn into a relationship when it seems there are two like minds; and that the other mind, the Anthony mind, is so knowledgeable and so confident. For a young woman who doesn't know where she's going, that's irresistible.”

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Alex Tryggvadottir