When Joanna Hogg’s very personal and semi-autobiographical film, The Souvenir, was released in 2019 the critics were split. Not quite as dramatic as some of the blockbuster films that were released around the same time but there was a definite split of opinion. Where the first part explored a toxic and strangely passionate relationship as well as glimpses into film school, The Souvenir Part II has a very different vibe and energy, a sense of anguish and despair with bursts of creativity that are far more captivating than the first part of this story.
In the aftermath of Anthony’s death, Julie tries to piece together what happened. She tries to find some sort of closure by changing her graduating final film and uses it to recreate moments from her turbulent relationship with Anthony. Through arguments on set, visits with her parents and meeting people from Anthony’s life she wasn’t aware of before, Julie asks whether she even knew this man she loved at all.
Literally picking up where the last film ended, there doesn’t feel like a huge gap between Parts so we’re able to enter the story right in middle of Julie’s grief, still fresh from Anthony’s death. Though his spirit still remains with his voice echoing at vulnerable moments throughout. Hogg doesn’t shy away from anything in this film which is just fantastic, whether its showing period sex or revealing very unceremoniously how film schools are indeed by run old white men anf how they respond to a woman’s innovative script. This is what was missing from the first film.
Part II of this personal journey feels more alive and energetic. Despite the fact that Julie is still grieving, it’s as if she has more agency and is focused on completing her film. There are moments when you feel like Julie is just going to slip into despair and never resurface but she always comes back to life when it concerns her work. There is also the added bonus of more scenes with Richard Ayoade as the deadpan tyrannical director, Patrick who returns from Part 1. The ease he exudes as well as being the most stressed out person on set is sheer delight. Patrick is the catalyst in Julie’s motivation to honour Anthony’s death but he isn’t there to mentor her and comfort her, as a director talking to another director (Julie), he is the push she needs to succeed.
Honor Swinton Byrne is just as she was from the previous part, but this time there is something more interesting about how she plays this character. She becomes more assertive in her grief and desperate need to find out the truth. The supporting cast in the film are absolutely brilliant this time, rounding out the friends, lovers, acquaintances and fellow film students. The more intense scenes are on set, with egos and arguments getting in the way of shooting and creating exactly what it’s like to be on set, especially a low budget filmset. This is a major reason why Part II is so brilliantly executed. The film school antics and politics is just so spot on, it’s comforting to know that film school hasn’t changed and Hogg understands this.
Ending on a perfect note, a nod to the future and a hopeful Julie all encapsulated into a short film within the film, The Souvenir Part II is just a wonder to behold.
The Souvenir Part II is playing at BFI London Film Festival 6 – 17 October