The Souvenir Part II (2021)
Written & Directed by Joanna Hogg
The Souvenir was not the sort of film we expect sequels for anymore. It’s an intimate, funny & poignant story about a young woman coming into her own and dealing with her first tragic love. The second film is about the ripples in that relationship and the death that ended up rippling through a young filmmaker’s life. It became a significant influence on her art. All of this is directly autobiographical, based on Hogg’s own experiences coming into her own as a filmmaker and the effects her ill-fated relationship had on that work.
Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) stays with her parents following Anthony, her now-dead boyfriend’s passing. She’s pulled back to London and film school, where she’s met with resistance from her teachers about her project. There’s also a desire to understand Anthony through his family and friends. Patrick (Richard Ayoade), one of Anthony’s pals, discourages her from digging too deeply, emphasizing that the man was an addict and that you just can’t even find reason in that. Julie’s film, The Souvenir, becomes an exploration of this relationship through a surreal, dreamlike narrative. The passing of Anthony has frozen. Julie is caught up in the grief of Anthony’s loved ones, her own pain, and avoiding connection with people as she goes through it all.
The Souvenir Part II is a film made for Joanna Hogg. She attempts to understand her younger self by dramatizing a key event in her life. Whether we’re there to view it or not is unimportant. The film feels like it would exist with or without an audience. What’s so fascinating is that such an intimate story still follows the expectation we have for sequels in mainstream cinema. The budget and scope are greater here, we’re introduced to even more characters, and the narrative takes the first film’s themes and complicates and explores them from new angles.
Julie’s original film project was about working-class Londoners on the docks, but she tossed all of that to make something more abstract and personal. Her professors say they cannot support her with financing from the school, but she soldiers on anyway, compelled to make this movie. Because of the cooperative nature of student filmmaking, Julie ends up on the crew of her classmates’ work, and we get to see the petty squabbles and power plays that these artists have with each other. The picture also cuts through the glamor of being an “artist” and shows how making a film can be a series of attempts and guesses. Without the ability to see the final form, directors scramble in the dark to find what it will be.
Richard Ayoade’s Patrick exists as a goal/warning to Julie about what a confident filmmaker looks like. He’s horribly pretentious and stubborn, over dramatically making statements about the ways the business side of the industry is restraining him. Patrick is not in a lot of the film, but his performance is the best stand-out supporting role in the entire work. Julie spends a lot of time observing him, taking in how he commands his set. Despite his arrogance, there is a brilliant moment in the third act where he finally submits to Julie’s questions about Anthony. Talking about his dead friend, all the facade of an auteur melts away; Patrick’s humanity is finally shown, and so is his grief & anger at his friend for ending his life. He’s the one who can articulate to Julie that the answers and closure she’s looking for just aren’t ever going to come. A loss like this has to simply exist and us alongside, accepting that some things are just horrible and difficult.
In the first film, Julie existed in the orbit of Anthony, constantly looking up to him. Here we have the character finally coming into her own, learning how to say what she thinks & wants outside of his looming shadow. The filmmaking style Julie uses in her student project is stunningly beautiful. The story is told using almost Technicolor boldness, a dream out of the mind of Powell & Pressburger. The exterior story is akin to Fellini, a film about making films with all the absurdity and comedy it brings. These two dual tones could clash easily, but Hogg deftly balances them.
Ultimately, The Souvenir, both parts, are about how to live with tragedy. Our personal experience can’t ever be the same as someone else’s, even if you lose the same person. Each person processes that loss in a way that works for them, some more healthy than others. There’s no one to turn to who will hand over a checklist and allow us to efficiently get through it and move on. For some, the loss will linger for the rest of their life, and for others, their loved one will pop up from time to time in memory, and for some, they can forget about that person and flush them away. These films have certainly piqued my interest in Hogg’s filmography. Part II, in particular, really pushes into some enticing aesthetic territory. No matter the intricate visuals, the reason the movie works is that, at its core, it touches on an experience that resonates with every person.