Release Date – 4th February 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 47 minutes, Director – Joanna Hogg
Student filmmaker Julie’s (Honor Swinton Byrne) graduation film becomes a lookback in multiple ways as she attempts to capture her past relationship, after her partner passed away from an overdose.
2019’s The Souvenir perhaps gained something of an eventually mixed reception. It focused on the relationship between student filmmaker Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her older partner, Anthony (Tom Burke). A number of their conversations revolved around art and film, particularly when his friends became involved. In this intended second part to writer-director Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical story we see Julie using her experiences as the basis for her graduation film, however her real world experiences begin to overlap with her creative vision, causing frustrations for her cast and crew.
While she wants to make a perfect film, a good final product to prove herself, she’s striving to make an accurate depiction of events that demonstrates what she’s been through – almost as an act of therapy. We see her struggle trying to piece things together, especially with a very tight budget, with her stresses flowing in her everyday life – her slight doubts and worries felt in each scene. Occasional meetings with Richard Ayoade’s more present Patrick don’t always help. His strive for perfection in his big-production musical, and indeed his own life, aren’t always sources of consolation for Julie – all finely displayed within a strong central performance from Swinton Byrne.
While perhaps mostly for those who have seen the first film, The Souvenir Part II concerns itself deeply with the creative process. The forms of expression in which Julie concerns herself with when it comes to making her film as perfect as possible. She’s both got full control and yet appears to be losing it as realism is aimed for. There’s a shift as we reach an almost unexpected turn into dream-like sequences which eventually act as some of the most engaging points in the film. Capturing something new within the piece overall and the central character. It captures your attention with an almost unpredictable nature as to where this will take the film and the character as a whole, particularly at a pivotal point in the creative process of the work that Julie and her crew are producing. All floating within the swirl of the conflicting words “just make what makes you happy, what you like, what you’re interested in, and it’ll work”.
There’s perhaps more to hook onto and engage with in this sequel, particularly for those who may have been more lukewarm, or even generally negative, towards the first film. It feels different, matching the new stage in the life of the protagonist, and while initially similar to the original and holding some slightly scattered ideas things manage to draw you in as it delves into the conflict of creativity and personal experiences and accuracy that’s being experiences at the heart of the film. Acknowledging what the past may have actually been like, what was went through, instead of potentially sugar-coating it like before – especially when told “I’m coming up against your idea of him, rather than the reality of him” when trying to cooperate within the actors bringing to life her remembrances in the cramped and tightly-built set.
It’s interesting to see where the film reaches and where Julie, as a character, goes over the course of the narrative. There are plenty of engaging notes, not just within the scenes involving the film production and creativity. Even scenes involving Tilda Swinton and Julie’s mother, Rosalind, have a sense of thought, and slight calm to them – this is Tilda Swinton in the role of a caring mother, after all! (Forming a number of brief and emotionally ranging highlights within her scenes).
Once all is pieced together and Julie’s relationships throughout the film are established, as she’s opened up to the world outside of her past relationship, there are a handful of points to help bring you in to The Souvenir Part II. Mostly revolving around the progression of the well-performed central figure, and the film she’s trying to make – whether it be semi-autobiographical narrative, or documentary style-recreation. Such feelings are present within this sequel and they blend well together to tell a form of dual lookback; acting with personal and creative confliction that help to bring you in further. Swinton Byrne’s character has been allowed to open up into the world, but is almost closing herself off to her vision of the past. This is a film of a handful of strands and subtleties that build up overtime, developing into something quietly engaging and interesting, all down to the detail and thought of the central figure’s personal arc.
The Souvenir Part II is largely concerned with the personal and creative conflict and unity of its well-performed central figure. Details expand overtime, helping to bring you in, and lead to further engaging surprises that work well for both Hogg’s and Swinton Byrne’s central character’s visions.