DIRECTOR: JOANNA HOGG
CAST: TILDA SWINTON, HONOR SWINTON BYRNE (JULIE), JAMES SPENCER ASHWORTH, ALICE MCMILLAN, CHARLIE HEATON (JIM), JOHN BURKE, RICHARD AYOADE
UK 1H 48 MINS
IN CINEMAS 4 FEBRUARY 2022
REVIEW by SUSAN GRAY
The Souvenir Part II is revolutionary in many ways: directed by a woman, and with a young female protagonist, who grasps recent heartbreak, betrayal and grief and turns them into art. In Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical drama, Julie, played by Honor Swinton Byrne, grows and is nourished by shaping the narrative of her past, as opposed to being ruined, diminished, or scarred for life. As well as being centred on the experiences of a young woman, and told from her perspective, which expands as the film progresses, The Souvenir Part II is also revolutionary in its portrayal of a relatively wealthy British family who are likeable and loving.
Hogg had originally intended to make The Souvenirs Parts I and II together, but funding and then the pandemic dictated they were screened over two years apart. While the first Souvenir had a heightened and emotional documentary feel, Part II is bolder merging past and present narratives, and playfully wrong footing the audience over whether what’s unfolding is happening right now, a retelling of the past, or a work of fantasy from deep inside Julie, magically made real.
Having adored the first Souvenir for its immersion into Julie’s life, and sympathetic examination of a doomed but exciting first love from every facet, The Souvenir Part II is equally beautiful and takes Julie’s story in an unexpected but entirely truthful direction. The absence of Anthony, whose character and heroin addiction added so much shade and grit to the first film, is made up for by deeper exploration of the film school students. Marland (Jaygann Ayeh) is especially notable, as he understands Julie and champions her work, even though they have completely different backgrounds. Richard Ayoade returns in the second film as Patrick the obnoxious art film director, bringing outright comedy to a work that mainly relies on juxtaposition for its lighter moments. Gail Ferguson’s psychologist is one of these sad and funny, but oh so true moments. Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of mother Rosalind, playing opposite her real life daughter, adds a sense of continuity and calm, as does the set of the family country cottage home with its flower filled garden, ticking clocks and wagging tail dogs.
Both Souvenirs are a love letter to the Eighties, which comes across as a much more navigable and hopeful time for all kinds of people. Even Anthony’s drug dealer’s house looks spick and span when Julie visits, to retrace Anthony’s last day. Hogg reconstructed the view from her student Knightsbridge flat to give the two films an authentic feel, and Julie follows suit in her own film making, incorporating her bed and hall door into the set of her student feature.
The films are also a campaigning statement for the power of art and its capacity to transcend individual disappointment and tragedy, and make them into something sustaining and marvellous for all.