The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019). Drawing heavily from her own experiences, Joanna Hogg crafts a film that captures the slippery ways problematic relationships become prisons of the participants’ own making. A student filmmaker named Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) falls into a romance with Anthony (Tom Burke), who works for the British Foreign Office. Their lives are thoroughly intertwined before Julie realizes Anthony is struggling with a serious drug addiction. The film largely traces the contours of their time together, with special care and empathy for Julie’s persistence as Anthony succumbs to intensifying destructive behavior. Hogg’s filmmaking is a feat of measured intensity, depicting small and large skirmishes honestly without ever edging into overt dramatics. Befitting its status as a sort of cinematic memoir, The Souvenir is devoted to an honest depicting of love experienced on a fault line. Both leads are strong, with Burke doing especially fine work as the crumbling partner. The layered power of the performances combined with the delicacy of Hogg’s direction to give the film a lasting profundity.
Atlantics (Mati Diop, 2019). The feature debut of director Mati Diop is set in the outskirts of Dakar, where a giant, modernist skyscraper is being constructed by exploited laborers. Shortly after the men go missing at sea, the women from their social circle regularly fall into trances at night. Apparently possessed by the departed workers, the women walk to the home of the local real estate magnate who was errant on delivering paychecks and demand the back wages. Those are the plot particulars of Atlantics. The fascinating overlay of working class drama and spooky mysticism serves as a platform for remarkable imagery, shot by miracle-working cinematographer Claire Mathon. Diop is adventurous in her creativity, shaping the film with an enticing, almost hypnotic tone. Adding to the sense of allure is a haunted love story at the core, which hinges on the delicate performance of Mame Bineta Sane, playing a woman in mourning who finds herself with an unexpected chance to revive her romance.
Long Shot (Jonathan Levine, 2019). A stab at a modern romantic comedy, Long Shot places its seemingly mismatched lovebirds in the realm of geopolitical negotiation. Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is the U.S. Secretary of State, eyeing a run for the presidency. Told there’s a need to loosen up her image, she hires a scruffy, newly unemployed muckraker journalist (Seth Rogen) as a speechwriter. They’ve known each other since they were children, when she was his babysitter, and he’s pined for her ever since. The attraction gradually becomes mutual, but the complications of political responsibilities, and the attendant caution about public image, interfere with the budding relationship. If the film is rarely convincing, there’s at least a very evident gameness for all involved. Even when the comedy is strained, it’s weirdly appealing to see everyone trying so hard — and, it seems, good-naturedly — to get the laugh. Rogen and Theron both have fine individual moments, without quite jelling as a team. The film’s best performance belongs to June Diane Raphael, cracking off sharp, angry lines as a sardonic staffer. Jonathan Levine directs ably, though he surely deserves the blame for the film running at least twenty minutes longer than it should.