*Please note: this review discusses spoilers concerning The Souvenir (2019)
Part II of Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical rumination on tumultuous love and self discovery flowers into a real tour-de-force.
One of the most exciting contemporary British auteurs, Joanna Hogg’s films have always been biographically inflected exercises in patience. The Souvenir was no different in its depiction of a tumultuous love affair drawn from Hogg’s own past. The film was originally conceived as a diptych—a pair of art works which are joined but also remain distinct—and the Souvenir Part II finally completes the tale in wonderful fashion.
Immediately following on from the events of the first film, we return to Julie (played by Honor Swinton Byrne as a fictional stand-in for Joanna Hogg during her time at film school) struggling to come to terms with Anthony’s (Tom Burke) death from a drug overdose. In the run up to making her graduate film, her mind is unfocused until she receives some blunt wisdom from one of Anthony’s friends: make him a memorial. At this moment her graduate film becomes a means for her to explore her tumultuous relationship with Anthony, through putting their experiences (the very ones we witnessed in the first film) to celluloid.
There is, then, a sense of narrative mise en abyme to the set-up of The Souvenir Part II; it is a film in dialogue with the events of the first film, which in itself was a means for Hogg to explore a pivotal event in her life. This has the potential to divulge into a frustratingly abstract mess (Hogg-ception, perhaps?), but thankfully, Hogg succeeds in delivering a wonderful exploration of art’s capacity to heal as well as its strange and uncanny relationship to reality.
And the relationship to reality is certainly uncanny in The Souvenir Part II. Honor Swinton Byrne’s real mother, Tilda Swinton plays Julie’s mother and it comes as no surprise that the chemistry between the two here is both organic and tender. Elsewhere, Richard Ayoade returns as an eccentric art-house director which is somewhat fitting due to Ayoade’s own films (Submarine, The Double) borrowing liberally from European art-cinema.
Hogg’s filmmaking style is excellently calibrated to such self-reflective subject matter. Once again we get frames within frames, and static long-takes. Even if Julie struggles for purpose for much of the runtime, Hogg’s camera does not. But whilst Hogg’s past films have relied on a social-realist aesthetic, here she plays with abstraction and fantasy, predominantly though the student films we see in production.
Fitting of The Souvenir Part II’s focus on film form, there is a pleasing physicality to the cinematography here. Film grain is present through a variety of film stocks, adding delightful texture to this portrait of an artist. The film is punctuated with close ups of vegetation—a pleasing counterpoint to Part I’s dreary, poeticall interruptions—which give a sense of this being a flowering of sorts for our protagonist. Indeed the film climaxes with a brilliantly surreal sequence—one of the many nods to Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes—which offers a tremendous vision of the euphoric highs art can achieve, and also some much needed closure to our protagonist. It is a triumph.
The Souvenir Part II is a triumphant close to Hogg’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age diptych. Staying true to Hogg’s social-realist leanings but with an injection of surrealism, the film truly succeeds in transcending the form.
Words by Jake Abatan
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.