The Souvenir Part II, 2021.
Written and Directed by Joanna Hogg.
Starring Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, Charlie Heaton, Joe Alwyn, Harris Dickinson, Ariane Labed, Richard Ayoade, Jack McMullen, Amber Anderson, Alice McMillan, Tosin Cole, James Spencer Ashworth, Frankie Wilson, Barbara Peirson, James Dodds, Oli Bauer, Lydia Fox, and Jaygann Ayeh.
In the aftermath of her tumultuous relationship, Julie begins to untangle her fraught love for him in making her graduation film, sorting fact from his elaborately constructed fiction.
Seemingly picking up immediately after the tragic ending of writer and director Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical The Souvenir, this direct sequel follows film student Julie working on her graduation project, an experience that proves to be challenging professionally and personally. Taking both her boundless love for her deceased junkie partner Anthony (played by Tom Burke in Part I) and a closer look at his demons (not to mention the frequent gaslighting he thrust upon her), Julie sorts out perception from reality not only within herself but through the lens of various supportive collaborators. It leads to the occasional probing exchange about what Julie saw in Anthony for the years they dated while confessing onset confusions and narrative frustrations that her crew has while crafting this search for catharsis through an artistic reenactment of damaged love.
Having recently re-watched Part I, that’s also the emotional barrier between fully getting invested in the fraught relationship and its adverse effects on Julie. While still empathetic, it’s fair to say she didn’t make the wisest decision in that movie. More importantly, Joanna Hogg somewhat failed at translating that undying love with an emotional connection. It’s a very icy film that, despite its tremendous performances and the believability of the relationship itself, never found an angle to convey the struggles either of its central characters was going through. Part I functions better as a filmmaker attempting to unwrap her own life choices rather than a riveting or relatable journey through a problematic relationship built on an age gap, deception, and a self-destruct vice, all of which are Julie put up with because he was still a positive force on her filmmaking aspirations.
As characters bring up concerns that they have no idea what they are doing anymore and that Julie might be losing the plot to both her ambitious sense of vision and trepidation to portray Anthony’s warts fully, it springs to mind that Joanna Hogg, despite Part I releasing to rapturous critical acclaim, is acknowledging some of the gripes that come the film’s way. Not only does this double down on the meta nature of the proceedings, but it also renders The Souvenir Part II organically messier. There’s plenty of pieces to fit together about art and life experience coming from a character that doesn’t have the answers, rather than a straight retelling of disastrous romance. Essentially, The Souvenir Part II is much more challengingly intriguing than its predecessor.
Once again, it’s all anchored by an absorbingly vulnerable and tender turn from Honor Swinton Byrne, getting back in closer touch with her parents Rosalind and William (Tilda Swinton and James Spencer Ashworth respectively, with the former being the real-life mother of Honor, naturally making for a more personal and authentic dynamic) and retracing her steps through Anthony’s loved one and friends to, hopefully, get a better understanding of the pain eating him alive from the inside and how to incorporate that into her student film more truthfully—unsurprisingly, mapping out that execution and the layered look at Julie’s artistic process (which is hindered by male college staff that disregards her initial ideas and come away financially unsupportive). In that regard, Julie becomes more assertive and confident in her decision-making working on her graduation phone, which Honor Swinton Byrne excels at expressing.
There are also a few interesting scenes with her filmmaking friend Marland (Jaygann Ayeh) questioning the purpose of one’s artistic endeavors and some lighter comedic detours catching up with Anthony’s friend Patrick (the always welcome presence of Richard Ayoade) working on his British musical, a project so plagued by in-house arguing it would make its own entertaining feature. Away from soundstages, Julie also attends therapy to untangle her relationship, all while searching inward as to what she wants from a partner.
The Souvenir Part II culminates in a decidedly artsy and cinematic sequence that gets to the core of Julie and Anthony (from the good to rectifying regrets and everything that went wrong), fully realizing its movie within a movie within a movie structure. With that said, such specific storytelling primarily rooted in filmmaking takes away some universal appeal, especially considering this back half of the complete narrative utilizes the same distanced and cold presentation. However, there’s an unmistakable honesty in telling the story, heightened by outstanding acting and bold narrative concepts.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com