The casting of Isabelle Huppert is both a blessing and a curse for Souvenir. On the one hand, the French national treasure elevates this lightweight dramedy with her trademark gravitas. On the other hand, her presence alone nurtures false hopes: the audience anticipates that something less formulaic is lurking in the wings, poised and ready to inject some substance to counteract the forgettable melodramatic fare. Sadly, despite a solid opening act, Belgian writer-director Bavo Defurne’s sophomore effort proves to be the very definition of humdrum.
Souvenir follows Huppert’s lonely soul, Liliane, a former Eurovision one-hit-wonder who, 30 years since her brief brush with kitschy glory, leads an anonymous life working in a pâté factory. Her dreary routine of generous after-work libations, coupled with TV game shows, is shattered when a much younger co-worker (Kévin Azaïs) discovers her secret and convinces her to return to the spotlight. In a frustratingly recurrent trope for many dramas featuring Huppert, puppy love soon ensues and it’s when the age-gap couple hit peak hanky-panky that the film takes a tumble. Instead of exploring Liliane’s alcoholism, the trappings of fame or commenting on entrenched cultural appetites for nostalgia-tinged comebacks, Defurne is content with settling for weightless sentimentality.
It doesn’t help that Love At First Fight star Kévin Azaïs, saddled with a pre-pubescent moustache and seen chronically chomping crisps, proves to be something of a charisma vacuum here; as for the cinematography which purposefully recalls televisual romances to match the Euro-pop campness, one assumes Defurne wanted Souvenir to surpass the middling effects of predictable TV soaps. But that’s precisely what it ends up as: an admittedly sweet-natured but tacky fable which features what can only be described as ear-herpes – “Jolie Garçon”, Liliane’s hit composed by Pink Martini – a potent pop song which falls on the wrong side of catchy. Nul Points.
Souvenir | Directed by Bavo Defurne (Belgium / France 2017) with Isabelle Huppert, Kévin Azaïs. Starts July 6.
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