'Souvenir': Film Review

Courtesy of TIFF
A pleasant but unmemorable vehicle for a poignant Huppert performance.

Isabelle Huppert plays a singer coaxed out of her long retirement by a new lover in a musical romance by Bavo Defurne.

The song lingers longest in Souvenir, Bavo Defurne's throwback musical romance whose likeable, lightweight plot just barely suffices to carry viewers through enough repetitions of its theme song to plant the refrain in our memory. As a long-retired singer whose career is revived by love, Isabelle Huppert is a master of regret and reluctance, quietly remembering a career her character wishes others would forget. But once the ride has started, her path to success is direct enough to be anticlimactic, whatever pleasures it holds. Still, older audiences in particular should be appreciative once it hits video.

The picture's most wryly witty moment occurs in its opening credits, where what appears to be champagne is revealed as a hangover remedy, filmed as it fizzes in the amber apartment of Huppert's Liliane. Decades ago, she was a Eurovision runner-up (she lost to ABBA — no shame in that), but her singing career ended when she split with her husband-manager, and now she works the assembly line at a paté factory.

When she is recognized by Jean (Kevin Azais), a 21-year-old new co-worker who still lives with his parents, Liliane tries to deny her old identity. But the young man persists, convincing her to make an appearance at a party thrown by his boxing club. Before long, the two are having a May/September affair, and the handsome youth has given up hopes of a boxing career to manage her comeback.

Defurne and his screenwriters have enough material for an old-school showbiz melodrama here, with the inevitable reappearance of Liliane's old husband (Johan Leysen) and the considerable potential that has to stir insecurities. But this and some other possible sources of conflict are underdeveloped; fortunately, Huppert and Azais manage to convey some poignant observations about their characters that aren't explicit in the script. Huppert offers an especially rich performance, though her occasionally stilted delivery of songs preceding the pic's lively, Pink Martini-penned main tune suggests she shouldn't quit her day job.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentation)
Production company: Bonjour Pictures
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Kevin Azais, Johan Leysen
Director: Bavo Defurne
Screenwriters: Jacques Boon, Bavo Defurne, Yves Verbraeken
Producer: Yves Verbraeken
Director of photography: Philippe Guilbert
Production designer: Andre Fonsny
Costume designer: Christophe Pidre
Composer: Pink Martini
Casting director: Katja Wolf

In French

Not rated, 90 minutes