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Review: The Souvenir Part II

December 3, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Joanna Hogg’s 2019 film The Souvenir was a low-key, semi-autobiographical drama about a film student, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), in the 1980s entering into an unexpectedly complicated relationship with a slightly older man, Anthony (Tom Burke). The film ended on a sombre note, followed by a title card announcing that a Part II would be coming soon.

Well, now we have The Souvenir Part II, and it is every bit the worthy followup to the first one, while maybe also enriching it by offering what is in some ways an even deeper, more meta experience. While the first film did stand on its own, this is the sort of sequel that builds upon the story, offering a series of touching and deeply satisfying emotional payoffs for its main character.

Instead of merely trying to copy the first film, this is a sequel that is metatextual in its very construction, following Julie as she finds catharsis through producing her graduation film, which just so happens to be about her relationship to Anthony. This allows Hogg to recontextualize and recreate moments from the first film, while exploring them through the lens of Julie looking back on her relationship with the hindsight of where it was headed.

It’s a powerful, not to mention gutsy, storytelling choice, which is why it’s such a testament to Hogg that she is able to pull it off. Both films work to compliment each other quite nicely, and the two very much feel like a nearly four hour movie when viewed together. Where as The Souvenir was a stripped down and minimalistic look at navigating a difficult relationship, Part II is about sorting through and dealing with the fallout from it, as Julie finds herself picking up the pieces from her life with Anthony. As much as it is a story about the filmmaking process, it is also about the grieving process.

Swinton Byrne delivers another nicely understated performance as Julie, doing a very believable job of portraying her character’s arc of learning to grow in the face of a great loss while also finding her own voice as a filmmaker. Tilda Swinton, her real life mother, returns to the role of Julie’s mother, and they share several poignant scenes together. Richard Ayoade also reprises his role from the first one and has several memorable scenes as pompous film student Patrick, who is realizing his dreams of making his grad film, an ambitious musical, but growing frustrated in the process.

The scenes showing the filmmaking process, including disagreements between co-workers and arguments over how to stage certain shots, feel very real and are sure to resonate with those who have worked on or tried to pull together a small production. The last act segues into artful abstraction, before Hogg brings it all home in the final scene, building to one of the best closing shots of the year. As an arthouse drama about a filmmaker finding healing through the filmmaking process, The Souvenir Part II is quite well done, and reveals itself to be something quite lovely as well.

The Souvenir Part II is now playing in limited release, including at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. It’s being distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

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