Team Tilda make a splash

Mother and daughter reunion for a Cannes ovation

by Richard Mowe

Does life imitate art? Honor Swinton Byrne with her mother Tilda Swinton as mother and daughter in 
 Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir: Part II part of Cannes Directors’ Fortnight
Does life imitate art? Honor Swinton Byrne with her mother Tilda Swinton as mother and daughter in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir: Part II part of Cannes Directors’ Fortnight Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Directors' Fortnight
The unmistakeable Tilda Swinton, of the porcelain complexion, willowy frame and punkish hair-dos, has been akin to Cannes Film Festival royalty for years.

This year of all years is no exception with Swinton, 60, appearing in a record five high-profile titles -Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir: Part II as part of the Directors’ Fortnight, as well as Competition contenders Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. She makes additional appearances in Cannes Classics presentations of Peter Wollen’s 1987 Friendship’s Death as an extra-terrestrial named Friendship and in The Storms Of Jeremy Thomas, Mark Cousins’s road trip from London to Cannes to interview the Oscar-wining film-maker.

Swinton also has another rather important role: as mum to 23-year-old Honor Swinton Byrne who appears alongside her in a mother and daughter combo, reprising their roles from Hogg’s original The Souvenir, which was one of the most acclaimed titles at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019.

The new film picks up after the conclusion of the first one which saw Swinton Byrne’s character Julie making her way as a young film student in the 80s and the fraught relationship with her boyfriend that ends tragically. It is based loosely on Hogg’s own experience as a young creative at the time.

Family hugs for Honor Swinton Byrne and mum Tilda Swinton at the Cannes premiere of The Souvenir: Part II
Family hugs for Honor Swinton Byrne and mum Tilda Swinton at the Cannes premiere of The Souvenir: Part II Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Directors' Fortnight
Although technically it’s a sequel, Hogg explained that she approached it as a standalone feature. Introducing the screening in Cannes, Hogg revealed that she had wanted to tell the story for years, but she struggled because she had never really understood her ex-boyfriend.

Hogg revealed: “It was always intended to be one piece of work, in two films. It goes back to 1988 and even earlier than that when I had a relationship a little bit like the one described in Part I and replayed in this part.

“It was a very intense time and I did not really understand what was going on and could not explain it to myself. But a few years later, in 1988, I thought I would really like to make something of that time in my life but I did not have the confidence to do it. That was partly because the man I had the relationship with was so mysterious and so clever at shape-shifting and giving different impressions that I would not know how to pin down his character.

“Then it took many years before I began to realise that I could do it from my point of view: it did not matter that I could not understand him. I just had to express the situation myself. The two parts have to co-exist. At the end of Part I you have a man who has manipulated a young woman and who has taken away her voice so Part II is essential to her regaining her voice.”

The Souvenir: Part II Director Joanna Hogg: 'There was a point where I thought it all could go horribly wrong. Usually though it works out if I follow my instincts'
The Souvenir: Part II Director Joanna Hogg: 'There was a point where I thought it all could go horribly wrong. Usually though it works out if I follow my instincts' Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Directors' Fortnight
Swinton and Hogg have known each other since those days. The actress assured the audience that she did not need “any help with the Eighties vibe”. She had worked with the director when they were both starting out. “So in may ways it is autobiographical for me too. And the graduation film you see in this second part is based on Joanna’s 1986 graduation film Caprice that I was in. And when we shot that scene Honor wore a lot of my clothes from that time, including the shoes. So all round it was a bit of a trip”.

She warned spectators not to read too much in to the fact that she and Honor are mother and daughter in real life. “It’s an autobiographical film about a family that’s not actually my family. The family of filmmaking, however, is a real thing, often stronger than blood relationships. If you can forget that we are mother and daughter then I think that would help,” she suggested.

When Swinton and Hogg finally asked Honor to do the role she was surprised. Honor recalled: “I said yes straight away…. I was really sure that it was what I wanted to do. I was so excited and so delighted, but so, so surprised. I really, really didn’t see it coming.” Honor and her twin brother Xavier are the offspring of Swinton’s relationship with playwright and artist John Byrne.

Tilda Swinton: 'In may ways it is autobiographical for me too'
Tilda Swinton: 'In may ways it is autobiographical for me too' Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Directors' Fortnight
Swinton Byrne’s immersion into the role only began two or three weeks before the start of the shoot. “I read a lot of letters and personal diaries. I spoke a lot with Joanna quite deeply about her emotions and what she was feeling at the time. I like to think I came to it quite naturally,” she said.

Hogg paid tribute to her producers and backers who had remained solidly on board during the lengthy pre-production process. “Casting for me is the centre of everything. If I do not get that right then there is no film. I go into a kind of trance when I am casting and I take it very close the wire. In this case I found Honor for the original just two or three weeks before we were due to start. There was a point where I thought it all could go horribly wrong. Usually though it works out if I follow my instincts.”

The Souvenir Part II is scheduled for UK release in cinemas from 5 November through Picturehouse Entertainment The Souvenir Part 1 is available on demand through Curzon Home Cinema, Amazon Video, BFI Player and iTunes and on blu-ray from Amazon and HMV and on DVD from HMV and Amazon

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