November 5th, 2021
MOVIE: THE SOUVENIR: PART II
STARRING: HONOR SWINTON BYRNE, TILDA SWINTON, RICHARD AYOADE, CHARLIE HEATON
DIRECTED BY: JOANNA HOGG
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
The Souvenir: Part II is a rare sequel where you can definitively say that you must see Part I before taking a look at Part II. Theres a string of events in 2019’s The Souvenir that make everything about the second part a bigger success, because it’s not just a story about love or loss, but much more with context. With Part II, things feel complete, and in a perfect world both films would be released together to make one long story. It all comes from the mind of Joanna Hogg, writing and directing, and making a pair of films that have a unique, singular voice. It’s a bit meta, but incredibly personal, with the lead spectacular performance from Honor Swinton Byrne, picking up right where she left off. It’s a major reason why The Souvenir: Part II is a genuine keeper.
Honestly, I’m a bit surprised that I am giving The Souvenir: Part II 4-Stars, not because it’s not worthy of it, but because it’s not a movie I will be revisiting right away. It’s not a sexy film, or action packed, or even heightened with palpable drama. And yet, it’s just so well made, visually real, honest in the struggle of being a film student, and powerfully emotional about growing after the loss of someone you loved- even if that someone was abusive. The lead character is once again Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), her story picking up after her late boyfriend Anthony (Tom Burke) has passed away from a heroin overdose. What is left is the cold reality of who Julie was in love with, a man that used her for money, and the sacrifices she squandered to please him. Part II is Julie’s rising from the ashes, continuing her pursuit as a director, and achieving it in her own glorious fashion.
Within both the first and the second parts is a masterclass in direction, where Joanna Hogg has a gorgeous visual style. Sometimes it’s just awe inspiring to see the visuals she creates, in a field of daisies, or the meticulous placement of the camera so we can see the body language of Julie and her mother Rosalind (played by Honor’s mother- Tilda Swinton). It’s the dynamics of relationships that Hogg is perfect in directing, where conversations don’t sound staged, wordy, or calculated. They’re just real and seem to have a bit of improvisation to make every interaction authentic. If someone told me that Hogg had made a documentary or just captured the true experience of this women’s life, I would believe it.
In the third act the focus becomes on the directing process of Julie’s major graduating film. The process of money she needs to borrow, her professors telling her what is expected from her work, and the incredibly difficult process of working with a film crew, while trying to keep it in your vision. Not only is it a complex process, it is the true gamut of what it means to work with others, with disagreements on character motives, disagreements on lighting, and bickering in a van on the way to location. The Souvenir: Part II truly understands the filmmaking process, or at least the way life can be when trying to be an artist of any kind. It involves working with others, when the completed project will only reflect on you.
If there was a flaw- which is not really a flaw at all- it would be that outside of Julie there are not many other characters. She has a brief romantic interaction with a potential actor in her film- Jim (played by Stranger Things‘ Charlie Heaton), a moment that is obviously a part of Julie’s grieving process. And then there is the surprise return of Richard Ayoade’s Patrick, playing a bit of a narcissistic director, who can be difficult, only because he wants his movie his way, but then he has a genuine moment with Julie, about what it takes to be a director and make a film on your own terms. It’s a highlight for why The Souvenir: Part II is a beautiful film to me. It’s a movie that I will think back on fondly on forever and it cements a pair of beaming artists in Honor Swinton Byrne and Joanna Hogg. I’m not sure there will be a Souvenir Part III, but if there is, I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes this trilogy one we cherish forever.
THE SOUVENIR: PART II IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS
WRITTEN BY: Leo Brady