Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical The Souvenir Part II is a stellar follow-up to its 2019 predecessor. An elegant and detailed exploration in growth after a vexatiously traumatic event with a first-class performance by Honor Swinton Byrne and a wittier, brighter heart, as vulnerable as the former.
There are few filmmakers in today’s age like Joanna Hogg. She makes her pictures tactile and graceful with such a distinctive and acute style that leaves several wistful markings on the viewer. They deal with the physical and psychological collisions of the upper/middle class with fragility, sterility, and some beautiful static wide shots. From Unrelated (2007) to Exhibition (2013), Hogg wants us, the audience, to carefully observe the journey she is taking us on with sheer naturalism and transience. Then, inspired by real-life events, she delivered the marvel that is The Souvenir in 2019, which is her best outing so far, and now, two years later, she returns with a sequel that’s at the same level as the former.
The film follows the aftermath of the vociferous and agonizing relationship with the cunning while charming Anthony. Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to untwine her frantic love for him by making her graduation film, thanks to her mother Rosalind (Tilda Swinton), and riddle details from his contrived serpentine fiction. Hogg’s second part of The Souvenir is more of an entrancing tale of a young woman’s first love and her growing years that blends memoir and escapism; it’s a portrait of an artist forging her opus surrounding the incident that has scarred her. Julie suffers from self-doubt, not only because she is trying to find her voice artistically, but because she doesn’t know how to mourn, tormented by Anthony’s suicide.
Identity is another crucial subject that both Part I and Part II tackled, intertwining it with bonds and intimate connection, both physically and mentally. Julie is more detached than ever from relationships with the parents of her dead ex-boyfriend and the students at the school, including her friend Patrick (Richard Ayoade). Most of the students are already accelerating to a glistering future while she is still working on her picture and structuring it to feel like a more confessional and mesmeric work. However, the crew working on it and her friends think it might be “too soon” for her to deliver such exposures when she clearly hasn’t healed the wounds caused by such experiences.
Similar to Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest feature, the excellent Bergman Island, Hogg blends reality and fiction together, causing a blur in the atmosphere, making both pictures feel magical while in a grounded state. It gets better as more layers between fantasy and actuality start to go one on top of the other. With a screenplay full of wit, comfort, and some minor portent, it excels in fleshing out the themes from Part I while bringing a new “comedic” tone and some ironic meta-commentary thanks to Richard Ayoade’s scene-stealing performance. One of the elements that worked perfectly on both parts is the relationship between Julie and her cold mother, played by mother-daughter Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton Byrne.
Even if you are a fan of its predecessor or not, there is a possibility that the viewer might be more attached to this one because its themes and core are more accessible. Hogg provides yet another remarkable piece that reflects on her art and a personal moment in her life with delicacy, honesty, self-criticism, and contemplation; she stands tall as one of the best current British acts to pierce the screen. A self-portrait of incandescent grief and the construction of a repertoire.