2018, NR, 90 min. Directed by Bavo Defurne. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Kévin Azaïs, Johan Leysen, Marie Colapietro, Carlo Ferrante.
REVIEWED By Danielle White, Fri., March 16, 2018
I think, from time to time, we all get lost in the psychological merry-go-round of coulda, woulda, shoulda – spinning in a reverie wondering how things would have turned out differently if we had just ended that relationship or taken that job or moved to that city. It’s a complete waste of energy, of course, but there’s something comforting about exploring our misspent potential – we aren’t failures because look at what might have been. In Bavo Defurne’s Souvenir this is precisely where we find Isabelle Huppert’s Liliane, parked on the couch nursing an Alka-Seltzer, watching a game show on TV, when who appears on the screen? The ghost of herself in the form of Laura, the nearly super-duper famous pop star alter ego she abandoned long ago.
Now Liliane works in a pâté factory, applying garnish to loaves at a conveyor belt pace. She seems pretty well resigned to this life of lonely monotony, until new guy Jean (Azaïs), a temp worker and professional boxer, shows up. He instantly recognizes her and eventually charms his way into becoming her manager (and lover), and the two plot a “comeback.” Jean is just 21 and still lives with his parents. His father's a Laura fanboy and his mother is jealous of this, a subplot that contributes an awkward underlying tension.
All the action in Souvenir happens in such a dreamlike haze, that it’s my personal pet theory that none of it is actually real and Liliane has been sitting in front of the TV the whole time. As far as symbolism with objects and colors, there is a lot for a minor poet to sink her teeth into. The most prominent garnish on the pâté is the bay leaf, a representation of wisdom and victory. Some of the work is already done as much attention is drawn to the color red, via a bathtub conversation between Liliane and Jean – “action, courage, confidence, passion.” Liliane’s bedroom is steeped in a deep red, and it’s the color of the dress she wears onstage. “Souvenir” is also the name of the song Laura sings at the European Song Contest (an American Idol-like competition). While the song is about lost love (that old trope), the broader meaning is about holding on to a memory. What we keep for ourselves, of ourselves: an intangible souvenir.