The Souvenir Part II LFF Film Review


★★★★★

Directed by: #JoannaHogg
Written by: #JoannaHogg
Starring: #HonorSwintonByrne, #TildaSwinton
Film Review by: Alex Matraxia

In many ways The Souvenir Part II isn’t really a sequel to Joanna Hogg’s 2019 film The Souvenir. It is a fluid extension of the first film, with greater audacity, dreaminess and complexity.

Film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is still struggling to get over Anthony’s death, their relationship dominating the first film. Julie seems unable to direct herself, and in early parts of the film she’s unable to speak. When her parents ask her about Anthony, she seems unbearably mute. It gets harder, as Julie also has to direct her graduate film, an autobiographical retelling of her relationship with Anthony (a film within the film which she aptly calls The Souvenir).

There are few films about filmmaking which focus on a director’s early journey into the craft. There’s something both endearing and painfully awkward about watching Julie make first-timer mistakes – changing camera set-ups last minute, unable to tell her actors enough about their characters. But this struggle seems to momentarily take her away from her grief as directing this film offers her a larger sense of direction. Julie finally takes charge of her life, and Honor Swinton Byrne’s performance is a fine example of less-is-more: when Julie’s DP throws a tantrum, Julie says nothing, and Byrne’s silence shifts from helplessness to a kind of solidity. After being controlled by Anthony, The Souvenir Part II sees Julie blossom into independence.

We never watch her graduate film, its screening gets intercepted by a dream sequence where Julie finally has to let go of the man (sometimes monster) in her memories. The dream, with its hand-painted backgrounds and smoke machines, fuses Derek Jarman with Powell and Pressburger. Maybe it’s no coincidence that these are British filmmakers. Hogg’s film seems to note its own loyalty to British filmmaking, attentive to gardens, rain, and grey roads. Julie’s work is also determined by familiar surroundings, unlike Richard Ayoade’s Patrick (Ayoade is almost ingenious in his performance) who has landed a gig making a lavishly choreographed film. He seems to model himself on a mix of Orson Welles and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. As much as Julie wishes she could make Patrick’s films – stylistic, dynamic, escapist – she accepts that her work has to be something else, something more personal, drizzly, and slow. Her art is less about excitement, but a way to navigate her own life.

Tilda Swinton reprises the role of Julie’s mother Rosalind, proud of her daughter despite the fact she doesn’t quite understand her. She doesn’t want to impose, she gives her child space, and yet her privilege (and its emotional indirectness) can make her seem distanced. Despite all these subtleties of character, when confronted by her daughter about Anthony’s death, she replies, “I felt through you”. In that moment, Rosalind’s awkwardness and stifled expression makes way for pure maternal selflessness. It’s apparent that Julie has never realised how much her mother gives her: a very ‘Hoggsian’ contradiction, how Julie’s grief can make her emotionally irresponsible.

Hogg’s strength is in her characters, they are so stifled and inarticulate, but nonetheless captivating. The Souvenir Part II felt like returning to old friends whose company we adore. They seem real, and perhaps that’s because they are real – the autobiographical element of young-woman-becomes-filmmaker isn’t hard to spot. Like Julie, Hogg’s loyalty to her own style makes her films so distinct, so memorable. The Souvenir Part II, as unglamorous as it may seem, is nothing short of movie magic.



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