Review – The Souvenir Part II

It’s not often that independent movies get sequels. Honestly, it’s not often that independent movies need sequels. But then again, it’s not often that movies of any scale are The Souvenir. In 2019, The Souvenir was a film that really bowled me off my feet, telling the story of a young film student named Julie and her relationship with an enigmatic yet charming man named Anthony, whose sudden disappearance at the end of the film leaves a profound mark on her life. The film can certainly stand alone but with this dramatic moment occurring in the final few scenes of The Souvenir, it is clear that there’s much still to process. In order to process that then, here is The Souvenir Part II, distinctly named so as to make it clear that this is the second half of The Souvenir and not an unnecessary expansion.

Now that most of the people who didn’t see The Souvenir are gone, it’s time to stop playing coy and talk about the end of the first film a little. Julie is still shaken by Anthony’s death and spends much of the first half of Part II talking to people Anthony knew and asking them for answers. However, Julie is also still trying to get on with her life, including graduating film school. The second half of the film then is still concerned with Anthony in some aspects, as Julie creates a final piece that borrows liberally from her relationship with her now deceased partner. This is where the brilliantly meta elements of the film really start to get folded in, as The Souvenir was originally based on a relationship that writer/director Joanna Hogg had when she was a young woman, that she (Joanna) made into a film called The Souvenir, a film which features Julie making a film out of her relationship, called The Souvenir. Confused? Don’t worry about it, there’s not too much to grasp, it all makes sense on screen even if I can’t lay it down coherently.

I believe in [Julie] completely, in every scene.

Once again, Honor Swinton Byrne plays Julie and plays her delightfully. Julie is the kind of character I should hate. She is intensely privileged, is quite unaware of the world around her and is generally a character whose gentle nature allows herself to be moved around by the machinations of the world. And yet, in Byrne’s hands that gentleness is Julie’s strength. She never feels annoying because of her wealthy lifestyle or naivety because she feels real. I believe in her completely, in every scene. The supporting cast are also terrific. Some are returning actors, like Tilda Swinton and Ariane Labed, the former in a smaller role but the latter soaring in an expanded role. My favourite returning actor though is Richard Ayoade. He essentially had a cameo in the last film, but he gets a good handful of scenes this time around and wrings all of them for both comedy and genuine pathos. It’s his best role since Paddington 2, I don’t mean that to sound like a joke. New cast members are also good, but I just remain so transfixed by Julie that it’s hard to talk about other characters in a fair way.

Poster for The Souvenir Part II (2021)

As with the first part, Part II remains a film about memory, something extra tangible due to its place as a sequel. If you have seen the first film already, I seriously recommend not re-watching it before seeing the sequel, because that maleability to your memory of the previous events is exactly what Part II works so well because of. Sets feel familiar yet uncomfortably empty, gazes are held into vacant spaces, conversations are had seeking answers to questions we may never have raised. Complicating the films relationship with memory is the new lens Hogg has also added; the camera lens. As the beautiful poster above puts it visually, Julie is the filter through which we view the film and through which she creates her own film. We’re getting into pretentious, twisty turny territory now, I appreciate, but it’s exactly this kind of thematic weaving that I love. It also means that just like the first installment, it’s an incredible feeling when scenes or shots resurface in my mind. Much as the experience of watching the film is brilliant, it lends itself very well to musing over and you know me, I love a good muse.

Hogg is totally capable of play within an emotional field, slowness is just her field of choice.

These aspects are all delivered to us through a film whose tone is once again totally dreamy. It’s quite a slow film, occasionally interspersed with some lovely little musical moments, but otherwise it is a long series of scenes where characters talk or sit quietly. I can’t emphasise this enough though, if you’re on board with the characters then you want to spend time with them, to luxuriate in their world. This softness also means that any breaks in the pattern feel genuinely shocking. There’s a scene where an item of crockery is broken and the gasp heard in the screening room was almost hilariously loud. Again, it is testament to how well the film works that it can make you legitimately jump because of the emotional connection you built with a pot. In the final act though, there is a scene which ditches this and goes for a feeling that is comparable to the finale of Twin Peaks season two. To say more would ruin it but suffice to say, Hogg is totally capable of play within an emotional field, slowness is just her field of choice.

In a way, these reviews from London Film Festival are all going to end up being really boring. Guess what, I loved The Souvenir Part II! Filtering the memories of the memories through the camera and into my soul, Joanna Hogg delivers a knockout film that even in a time when I’m inundated with brilliant films is proving to stick. Don’t watch it if you haven’t seen the first, but if you haven’t seen the first then there’s still plenty of time to watch it and let linger. I think Part II is getting a UK release in January and until I can see it again, I’m very excited to let Joanna’s film about Julie’s film percolate a while and create a delicious crema in my brain.

Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie in The Souvenir Part II (2021)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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