Review Of Souvenir Part II: Sequel Of Joanna Hogg Is The Godfather Part II For Posh Misery Lovers
‘The Souvenir’ by Joanna Hogg tells the story of a doomed romance the filmmaker had in her early adulthood. Honor Swinton Byrne played Hogg’s early Eighties avatar, a young aspiring director fascinated by an older and ultimately tragic man. It was a critical hit, yet polarizing: a masterpiece of intimacy or a navel-gazing exercise in affluent angst. In addition, Hogg appeared to be working through her memories in real-time, resulting in a film so cold and distant it felt impenetrable at times.
Surprisingly, the sequel is the complete opposite. The result is a beautiful, sprawling drama that feels less inert and more engaging than its predecessor. The film is like The Godfather Part II of posh misery, but broader in scope, smoother execution, and warm instead of cold.
Swinton Byrne’s Julie is involved in a detective story this time around. In the first movie, her older boyfriend Anthony (Tom Burke) died at the end of the film from his heroin addiction. Spending her days in bed, she roams the Norfolk broads near her parents’ home and asks curious questions. Byrne wants to know if her mother (a scrappy, earnest Tilda Swinton) ever liked Anthony and if there was anything in him that she overlooked.
Eventually, Julie begins shooting her graduation project at film school, an autobiographical tale of an aspiring director fascinated by a tragic older man. She is asked many questions by her actors: Is it believable that she didn’t know about her drug use? Did he have all the power in the relationship? Harris Dickinson, who plays Anthony, tries to understand his character’s behavior since Julie’s script doesn’t give him the answers he needs. He says it describes the “idea” rather than his truth.
Everything is all oddly immersive. Hogg compares the artistic process to being an adult and feels like a directionless wander. Within Hogg’s potentially exhausting metatextual loop-de-loop of an actor playing her, directing actors playing her, the film remains focused on the easily relatable. Despite disappointing flings and dashed romance, Julie’s life is full of endless navigation of how to exist in this world after the death of Anthony. While she isn’t the naive waif she was with Anthony, she is still learning to speak up for herself and deal with other people’s egos.
Byrne feels more comfortable as an actor this time around. Perhaps Burke’s absence has something to do with it. Hogg fills Anthony’s absence with color and spark; as a result, Julie becomes less of a cipher. Likewise, her friends and associates gain depth and importance, as do minor subplots. Joe Alwyn makes a cameo as an editor to whom Julie briefly likes. Richard Ayoade plays a flamboyant, tyrannical director of a horrible musical – building on a small part in the first film – and few scenes in recent cinema bruise-like one here involving a ceramic sugar pot and a heartbroken Swinton. Whether Hogg plans to make a Part III or not, she has created a universe that you’d happily dive into every few years.