The strange and often heartbreaking autobiographical journey of 2019’s The Souvenir continues with writer/director Joanna Hogg’s more empowering sequel The Souvenir Part II, which follows the filmmaker’s stand-in Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne). Julie is still reeling from the death of drug-addict boyfriend Anthony in the last film, a story that was more about the manipulative nature of Anthony’s love for her, something she has only really recognized and acknowledged since his passing. Julie has decided to channel her grief and newfound wisdom into her graduation thesis film, which we get a sense of, blending the fantasy and reality whirlwind that she experiences in her relationship with Anthony. But there are many obstacles (both financial and creative) that she must get through before the project can really take shape.
In the immediate aftermath of Anthony’s death, Julie goes to stay with her well-off parents, including her mother Rosalind (played by the actor’s real-life mother, Tilda Swinton). I could watch this pair all day just going through the machinations of an average conversation about anything from what’s for dinner to the very serious emotional baggage that needs unpacking at this point in Julie’s life. Tilda Swinton playing uptight but still wanting to connect with her more spirited offspring is a sight to behold, not that we needed additional reminders of her abilities (having just seen her in The French Dispatch and the upcoming Memoria, I’ve had fresh examples of her range and power as a performer).
Leaving the house with a sizable investment in her film project (Julie’s film school wouldn’t sanction the movie because the script was too disjointed), Julie heads back to school to begin work. It is there we meet supporting character (but still major scene stealer) Patrick, played by the great Richard Ayoade, embodying every pompous, self-aggrandizing film student we’ve ever met. He’s a beastly treasure who finds a way to be charming even as he’s hurling the worst insults at your work, your artistic value, and your humanity. As filming begins, Julie finds she is not entirely suited to lead a set, since she lacks a clear vision (or at least she lacks the ability to articulate her vision), and this leads to tension on her set. Since the common practice is for students to use other students on each others’ works, everyone is effectively a volunteer, but they still need guidance. And because her work is so personal, she struggles with communication. We actually get to see her work through her shortcomings and she forms a bond with her crew and finds a means of conveying her vision eventually. It’s a fascinating process.
We only get glimpses of the film being made, and that’s probably for the best, since it feels like more of a tone poem than a strictly adhered-to narrative piece. We see actors going through re-creations of moments we’ve seen before, as well as more naturalistic fantasy sequences that explore the inner working of her love affair with Anthony, and experiencing these moments again has a profound emotional impact on Julie. The Souvenir Part II seems built upon the creative means in which memory can be turned into art, and filmmaker Hogg makes it so easy to slip into Julie’s mindset that we get as caught up in her frustration at the process of relying on others to make her visions come to life. It’s as much a coming-of-age story as it is one about searching for artistic maturity, and however you see it, it’s fascinating in its ability to pull from both arenas and come up with something so complete and fulfilling.
The film is now playing in select theaters.
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