Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir Part II”, which is the sequel to her previous film “The Souvenir” (2019), illustrates the aftermath of its young heroine’s toxic romantic relationship depicted in the previous film. As she tries to process the devastating end of the relationship with her problematic lover, the movie dryly but sensitively follows her following emotional/artistic maturation, and the result comes to resonate a lot with what we observed from the previous film.
The story begins at the point not long after the ending of “The Souvenir”. Still struggling to get over from her addict boyfriend’s unexpected death, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) tries to move on with her film school education, but she often finds herself quite confused and aimless to say the least. Yes, her boyfriend was pretty bad to her in many aspects, but her relationship with him was the first serious romance in her life, and she sometimes wonders how their relationship went wrong – and whether she should have seen his problems from the very beginning.
At least, things are not quite bad for Julie because she has a number of people who really support and care about her. Her several colleagues including Marland (Jaygann Ayeh) and Max (Joe Alwyn) are ready to assist her when she is about to make a film for her graduation. Her affluent parents are certainly willing to bring some comfort and consolation to her at their cozy country house, and she later asks her mother Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) about whether she can borrow a considerable amount of cash for completing her graduation film, which happens to be funded in private as the school board rejects to fund it for understandable reasons.
Not so surprisingly, Julie’s graduation film is a fictional reflection of her relationship with her dead boyfriend, and she is really determined to complete it, but, to the frustration of her and others around her, she does not know well what she exactly wants to create. She has the cast and crew members waiting for following her direction, but she soon finds herself failing to communicate with them, mainly because, as the school board members sharply pointed out already, her screenplay is rather aimless in its free-flowing narrative. No matter how much she tries, many of her cast and crew members remain as confused as her, and that naturally causes lots of friction between her and them.
Due to this artistic problem of hers, Julie cannot help but envy how her fellow filmmaker Patrick (Richard Ayoade) has advanced with lots of ambition and confidence. At one point, she watches how he and his cast and crew members shoot a big musical scene, which brings some cheerful jolt to the film. Everything seems to be going pretty well on the surface, but it later turns out that Patrick also has lots of doubt and insecurity behind his swaggering appearance.
Leisurely rolling from one small episodic moment to another, Hogg’s screenplay, which is as autobiographical as “The Souvenir”, subtly conveys to us its heroine’s gradual growth bit by bit. As struggling to get the right tone for her graduation film, Julie gets some good advice from her editor Max (Joe Alwyn), and, because he also knew her dead boyfriend well, he and Julie subsequently come to have a little private conversation about her dead boyfriend, though he turns out to be not the one who can be attracted to her as she wishes. In one brief but crucial scene later in the story, she happens to encounter Patrick outside, and he generously reminds her that she is actually going in the right direction despite her initial artistic struggle.
As these and other key scenes in the film engage us more, we are more immersed into its dry but realistic period atmosphere, which is enhanced further by the grainy visual quality of the cinematography by David Raedeker. When her completed film is finally shown to her audiences, Julie finally comes to see more of how she can move on from the complex past with her dead boyfriend, and, to our little surprise, the movie accordingly looks brighter and sharper than before. That is more than enough for us to get a liberating sense of hope from our heroine, and we are touched more as the movie adds a sublime finishing touch to its poignant last scene.
Hogg also draws the good performances from her main cast members. As the emotional center of the film, Honor Swinton Byrne is terrific as she was in the previous film, and she deftly handles her character development with subtle nuances to be appreciated. Tilda Swinton, who is incidentally Byrne’s mother in addition to having known Hogg since their early years, is surely the most prominent one in the bunch, but she does not overshadow her daughter at all, and they certainly bring some extra authenticity to several key scenes between them. In case of several other cast members, Richard Ayoade has a little flamboyant fun with his showy character, and Jaygann Ayeh, Ariane Labed, Harris Dickinson, and Joe Alwyn are also fine in their respective supporting parts.
On the whole, “The Souvenir Part II” is quite satisfying as movingly finishing what was started from the previous film, and Hogg, who recently gave us “The Eternal Daughter” (2022), demonstrates again that she is indeed an interesting filmmaker to watch. I must say that I was not as enthusiastic about “The Souvenir” as others at that time, but now I come to discern more of not only what Hogg attempts to achieve but also how she marvelously succeeds, and I guess I really have to watch her two films together someday.