VOD film review: The Souvenir: Part II
Charlotte Harrison | On 25, Apr 2022
Director: Joanna Hogg
Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Charlie Heaton, Harris Dickinson, Richard Ayoade
If The Souvenir (2019) was a semi-autobiographical retelling of a tumultuous relationship, Part II is a slightly more abstract exploration of the consequences of a tumultuous relationship. Picking through the ruins, with some help from a therapist along the way, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is trying to work out what happened, how it makes her feel and what comes next. She loved Anthony (Tom Burke), yet she also realises how little she really knew about him and his life. While working through that emotional turmoil, and negotiating new romantic entanglements, she’s also got to complete her graduation film. She realises the film she creates could be the perfect, and possibly only way, to process and maybe even move on from her trauma.
The first film was a voyeuristic observation of a fraught love affair, and it would have been easy for writer-director Joanna Hogg to use the same tonality and approach here. Instead, like Julie herself, this is a film that feels more personal and self-reflective, as Julie exorcises her emotional demons by recreating them – her graduation film is a restaging of the love affair that almost destroyed her. It’s an immensely creative approach, almost to the point of being playful and teasing, as we watch moments from the first film reconstructed – examined and exhumed.
Julie is finding her voice, as both an artist and as a woman, just as Hogg seems to have perfected hers. This film is from a master at the top of her game. It flows elegantly and at times it all becomes delightfully meta, as the old and the new become entwined – a treaty on the nature of lived experience and how the emotions and figures of the past can haunt the present.
Only the finest of films will make you feel as if you too have lived the life of their characters, the reverb of emotion echoing long after the credits’ roll. That happens here with abundance. There’s a fragility grounded by steely reserve. To give into her grief would be too easy for Julie (and, in turn, Ms Hogg herself). To confront those ghosts and turn that a filmic magnum opus takes true strength and vision.
Just as Swinton Bryne’s performance is so naturalistic and true that it’s easy to forget it’s actually a performance, so too is the entire production – its lightness of touch deceptive in the raw power driving it. The film, and the one within it, both serve as tributes to the omnipotent, transformative power of cinema.