A review of the new art house film “The Souvenir Part II”

Writer and director Joanna Hogg always intended her story to be in two parts and originally wanted to film both segments back-to-back. However, there were funding issues, so the first film was released in late 2019 but we had to wait until early 2022 for the second. 

While the first part was an account of the toxic relationship between film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne in her first acting role) and her boyfriend Anthony, a drug addict who eventually dies from an overdose, the second is an examination of how Julie processes her grief, which in large part is through the making of a graduation film about the relationship.

This film-within-a-film structure means that viewers are sometimes unsure whether they are watching Joanna’s film or Julie’s film, but essentially both are just different ways of looking at the same thing and both are deeply personal and substantially autobiographical.

Comparing Part II with Part I, this latter film is lighter in tone (indeed there is a good deal of quiet humour) and easier to follow (it is one film nested in another although Julie’s film is surreal in taking us into a dream-like rabbit hole). In a captivating treatment, Honor Swinton Byrne is beguiling in the central role, although her character clearly confuses and irritates fellow members of the film crew because – like Joanna Hogg herself – she does not work through a detailed script but a general treatment which invites and indeed requires improvisation.

So this naturalistic art house work will not be to everyone’s taste, but the critics adore Hogg’s work and it has grown on me over the last three years.

Note: I saw Part II at the British Film Institute in a preview screening a few weeks before general release. At the conclusion, the audience gave it a rapturous applause. There was then an interview with 61 year old Hogg whose answers were somewhat meandering and unclear. At one point, she confessed: “Really, I don’t know what I’m doing”. So we need to make allowances – after all, this is art.


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