At the time Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir was released in 2019, we already knew a second half of the story was on its way. Part one of her look at her formative years as a student film maker, and one traumatic event in particular, was well received, despite a cool, distant tone and giving the distinct impression that a career in film making and the arts in general was the prerogative of those with money. So, with Hogg still behind the camera and Honor Swinton Byrne as the artless Julie at the centre of the story, how would the second instalment fare?
The good news is that it’s even better than its predecessor. Picking up from where it left off, Julie is trying to come to terms with the sudden and tragic loss of her shady boyfriend, Anthony (Tom Burke) from a drugs overdose. Her parents are a constant support, doing their best to help even if they’re never sure if they’re doing the right thing, but at the same time she’s facing the prospect of making her graduation film at college. It’s a project that helps her navigate the grieving process, re-constructing her confidence while, at the same time, finding out more about the man she thought she knew.
This time round the narrative has a stronger focus and, while Hogg’s portrait of herself/Julie isn’t always the most flattering, it’s uncompromising in its efforts to be honest about her experiences and difficulties in trying to find a way through a labyrinth of emotions. As before, we respect both the director and the character but, instead of being at arm’s length we’re now more involved in Julie’s journey as she tries to make sense of a world that seems determined to carry on as if Anthony had never existed. Her college project starts out as something her lecturers are reluctant to support and, when she begins work on it, we can see why. It’s ramshackle, disorganised and generally something of a mess, her crew are in a constant state of revolt but hardest of all for Julie to face is that, much as she wants to make the film, she really isn’t ready for something so demanding. Fragile, and essentially still grieving, she doesn’t have the emotional strength.
Grief, love, loss, the often cathartic power of the cinema – all are themes in a carefully, lovingly composed film which benefits again from some excellent performances, especially from Swinton Byrne herself. She matures before our eyes, earning our compassion while her real-life mum, Tilda Swinton, again dons a personal style more suited for somebody 20 years her senior to resume the role of her doting mother. As a film director with aspirations beyond his talent, Richard Ayoade steals every scene he’s in with his acid humour and constant carping. The upper class context from part one is still there, but this time in the background, making the film more accessible for a wider audience.
The original may not have been to everybody’s tastes, but it won a number of fans and this gives them a satisfying and thoughtful conclusion to Julie’s story. Those who were less impressed may find this one a more emotionally and artistically rewarding experience. There is much to love about the story and Julie herself.
Drama | Cert: tbc | London Film Festival, 8 and 16 October | UK Cinemas 21 January 2022 | Picturehouse Entertainment | Dir. Joanna Hogg | Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade, Charlie Heaton, Joe Alwyn.