Armond Cohen (director)
20 September 2019 (released)
19 September 2019
Souvenir is a dramatic first feature from director Armond Cohen about the complexities of commercial surrogacy and parenthood.
It is Isabel’s story that drives the narrative as a young Mexican woman who has been recently deported back home from America. Her forced repatriation meant leaving her four-year-old son behind with his dad, her aggressive and repugnant ex. Back in Mexico, she is alone with no money and surrogacy is her only option to raise funds to fight, what we imagine will be a bitter and protracted custody battle. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Isabel, who is portrayed with grace and grit by Paulina Gaitán.
The emotive subject matter is deftly handled by Cohen, who manages to balance his protagonist’s dire situation as the “substitute mother” with the turmoil and anxiety experienced by the childless couple and biological parents, Sara and Joaquin. Yuriria Del Valle and Flavio Medina vividly portray the latter, showing the pain and confusion of their arrangement as they lurch from compassion to control.
One potential anchor and support for Isabel, comes in the form of her former college professor, Bruno, played by Marco Pérez. It is established very quickly that his character is vehemently childless by choice, and that he is still smarting from the fact that those views resulted in the breakdown of his marriage. By taking Bruno as her lover, her contract pregnancy is humanised, finely illustrating that she isn’t just a proxy vessel, she is a person with desires and needs, and someone who still has autonomy over her own body.
Whilst it is a self-assured debut, it occasionally leans on visual and filmic tropes. Bruno as well as being a tutor of literature is also a one-hit-wonder novelist, who regularly laments the loss of his literary mojo. So, when Isabel becomes his muse, albeit brutally so after he discovers her complicated life story, it feels inevitable. Similarly, the director employs an over-stylised and over-used filmic device to illustrate Bruno’s reignited passion for writing, using jump cuts and ghostly fades, to suggest the passage of time.
Plot twists and reveals throughout the film maintain its momentum and interest. The editing stands out for its clean cuts, pace and offers up playful moments with perspective and framing. Also noteworthy is the colour design and the decision to daub a beautiful paintbox of washed out pastels onto the screen, giving the film a nostalgic, dreamy veneer.
Armond Cohen has produced a thoughtful and visually engaging commentary on childlessness and the hard-wired human desire to procreate.
Souvenir: International Premiere, The Raindance Film Festival, London, Friday 20th September, 8.45pm