- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Filmmaking is an act of healing and reinvention in The Souvenir Part II, Joanna Hogg’s cool-headed yet roiling continuation of her 2019 feature about a young woman drawn into a damaging relationship with a caddish charmer. The distinctive British filmmaker is at the height of her powers in this semiautobiographical work. It’s not so much a sequel as a cathartic exploration in which her screen alter ego, played in another performance of startling emotional candor by Honor Swinton Byrne, picks apart the wreckage of her romance in the wake of tragedy and reassembles the pieces.
Arguably even more original and intensely personal than the first part, this A24 release deftly extracts something real and relatable from the elaborate artifice of the filmmaking process, making amusing observations about both the academic and the commercial sides.
The Souvenir Part II
It’s an unusually revealing account of a woman figuring out not only who she wants to be, but storing up experiences, good and bad, while gradually developing the language and maturity to turn them into art. That Hogg does this without ever having to apologize for the privilege of her upper middle-class white protagonist is a testament to her wit and intelligence as a director, and to the unguarded vulnerability of Swinton Byrne’s performance.
The drama begins with her character, Julie Harte, still numb from the shock of her boyfriend Anthony’s death — that character was played superbly in the first film by Tom Burke, his seductiveness brushed but not undone by his superiority — and from the revelations of his double life, retreating to the comforts of her well-off parents’ home in the North Norfolk countryside.
Hogg habitually works from a basic treatment with little dialogue, shaping each scene with her collaborators as shooting progresses. That improvisational quality is especially rewarding in scenes between Julie and Swinton Byrne’s real-life mother, Tilda Swinton, who’s caring but crisply reserved as Rosalind, torn between giving her daughter space and coddling her. And James Spencer Ashworth, a gentleman farmer from the area with no screen acting experience, plays her father, William, with lovely notes of warmth behind his cheery platitudes. The observations of Englishness in these scenes are spot-on and full of subtle humor.
Julie’s parents hide their concern for her behind a slightly self-absorbed politesse, amusingly so when her mother starts gushing enthusiastically about the Etruscan-style sugar bowl she’s made in a pottery class. “I’m going to fill this house with artifacts,” she exclaims, while William chimes in with words of encouragement. As well-meaning as they are, this is clearly a couple for whom the reality of a heroin addict whose life was an intricate assembly of lies, as was Anthony’s, is simply too foreign to contemplate in much detail. Only when her mother visits Julie in her Knightsbridge apartment does some of that remoteness dissolve.
Still struggling to make sense of her relationship with Anthony, Julie returns to film school to work on her graduation project. The same male faculty members who questioned the posh student’s connection to a kitchen-sink drama set in economically blighted, working-class Sunderland in The Souvenir now raise their eyebrows over her intention to scrap that idea and switch to an unstructured romantic fairy tale.
The shoot, rippling with undercurrents of student rivalry, becomes Julie’s means of working through her loss, and Swinton Byrne is at her best in these scenes of isolation within the group. She rejects the trained actresses suggested by her producing partner (Jaygann Ayeh) for her female lead, instead casting fellow student Garance (Ariane Labed), a self-assured Frenchwoman whose own sci-fi project — clearly emulating the high-style French thrillers of the ’80s, in which decade Hogg’s film is set — couldn’t be more dissimilar. Julie constantly questions herself, and Garance’s difficulty understanding her role — she finds the character “too naïve, too fragile” — feeds her insecurities.
In one powerful scene, Julie’s indecisiveness causes tempers to flare in a van between setups. Her colleagues feel adrift, but rather than offering reassurances by taking charge, she withdraws into silence as the argument becomes more heated. That’s not to say Julie is a passive character. She’s introverted, but her confidence grows by almost imperceptible degrees throughout.
Another perspective on the creative cauldron of moviemaking comes via a big-budget period musical being shot by supercilious egomaniac Patrick (Richard Ayoade), a character tantalizingly encountered in the first film and here given a much larger sandbox in which to play. Blithely comparing himself to Scorsese (an executive producer on both the Souvenir films) and Orson Welles, Patrick is at his most hilarious in a tense scene during the editing process, when every careful compliment winds him up the wrong way. “That’s marvelously generic,” he responds disparagingly to Julie’s words of praise. “You’re forcing me to have a tantrum.”
Perhaps partly as a result of his grounding in demented Brit TV comedy like The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh, the priceless Ayoade has a knack for simultaneously overplaying and underplaying. A scene where a dejected Patrick skulks around Soho in a white fur after being shut out of postproduction (“I’m middling,” he responds acerbically, when Julie asks how he’s doing) is funny, but also leaves a lingering pathos.
Julie, meanwhile, bounces among three new men as she struggles to figure out whether she really misses Anthony or just the intimacy of companionship. She has a one-night stand with the star of Patrick’s musical (Charlie Heaton) that pins her self-worth around zero; she makes effortful attempts to communicate what she wants from the male lead in her own film (Harris Dickinson), a stand-in for the man she loved but clearly did not understand; and she completely misreads the signals from her sympathetic gay editor (Joe Alwyn) in one endearingly awkward moment, beautifully played by both actors.
All these scenes add interesting layers to our understanding of her state of mind, which then gets turned inside-out at the premiere of her graduation film. Instead of the film she’s been shooting, we see the surreal dream version in her head, which carries echoes of Anthony’s admiration for Powell and Pressburger, The Red Shoes in particular. Anthony’s words to her, “You’re lost and will always be lost,” reverberate over theatrical images representing their time together, including the weekend in Venice where his dishonesty became harder to ignore.
This is a ballsy stylistic shift at a climactic moment in the story, but Hogg makes it work, adding to the complexity with which she surveys Julie’s emergence from despondency and her blossoming confidence as an artist. There’s sweet vindication, too, in her success after bending the rules of film school, a note that no doubt reflects Hogg’s own experiences from that time.
As in the first film, the sophisticated contributions of DP David Raedeker and production designer Stéphane Collonge are indispensable in a film that’s all about the way our gaze is directed, both in movies and in real-life experience. The attention to detail in Julie’s apartment set, with painted flats visible through the windows and wooden support beams behind its fabricated walls, is just one way in which Hogg deftly upends our perceptions of the line separating fully inhabited reality from a filtered interpretation of it, hard fought but worth the fight.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight)
Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Jaygann Ayeh, Richard Ayoade, Ariane Labed, Tilda Swinton, James Spencer Ashworth, Charlie Heaton, Harris Dickinson, Joe Alwyn, Jack McMullen, Frankie Wilson
Production companies: BBC Films, Sikelia Productions, Protagonist Pictures, Element Pictures, JWH Films
Director-screenwriter: Joanna Hogg
Producers: Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe, Emma Norton, Luke Schiller
Executive producers: Rose Garnett, Michael Wood, Lizzie Francke, Martin Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Dave Bishop
Director of photography: David Raedeker
Production designer: Stéphane Collonge
Costume designer: Grace Snell
Editor: Helle Le Fevre
Sound designer: Jovan Ajder
Casting: Olivia Scott-Webb
Sales: Protagonist Pictures
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day