The Movie Waffler New to VOD - THE SOUVENIR: PART II | The Movie Waffler


the souvenir part 2 review
Julie attempts to memorialise Anthony through her graduation film.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joanna Hogg

Starring: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton Jaygann Ayeh, Richard Ayoade, James Spencer Ashworth, Harris Dickinson, Charlie Heaton, Joe Alwyn, Ariane Labed

the souvenir part two poster

There are some people who feel that artists serve no real function. You know, the type that visit a gallery to pronounce "my kid could paint that!" But even the greatest philistines among us tend to rely on artists and creators when it comes time to say goodbye to a loved one. At memorial services, poems are read by people who might otherwise mistake Wordsworth for a supermarket chain. When it comes time to bid farewell and send someone off to the next world, we invariably seek the help of those more artistically blessed than ourselves.

How does an artist memorialise a dead loved one, and what if their art is a collaborative one like film that forces them to reveal their feelings to a bunch of agitated crew members who just want to get finished by five o'clock? That's the task faced by Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) in the unlikely but welcome sequel to Joanna Hogg's semi-autobiographical The Souvenir.

the souvenir part two review

The first film told the story of Julie, a film student from a wealthy background who falls for Anthony (Tom Burke), an enigmatic chancer who claims to work for the foreign office, but who is really a spoofer sponging off Julie and God knows how many others to feed his heroin addiction. That film ended with Anthony fatally succumbing to his habit, and the sequel picks up soon after.

Unable to discuss her loss in any real depth with either her own or Anthony's parents, Julie decides to work through her feelings by dramatising her relationship with Anthony through her graduation film. Her idea provokes scorn from her lecturers, who preferred her previous pitch of a patronising look at poverty in the city of Sunderland. They ask Julie how she intends to shoot a script that doesn't conform to industry standards, but Julie can't give them an answer. On set she pisses off her fellow students with her inability to communicate her ideas. She casts a French student, Garance (Ariane Labed), as her own surrogate, but Garance can't wrap her head around the character because she doesn't understand the very British mentality of avoiding confrontation and sweeping relationship problems under the carpet.

Over the course of her two films, Hogg examines the Briton's inability to express emotions, and why for this reason they need art more than most people. The closest Julie comes to opening up about her feelings comes when she has a couple of pints in her system on an afternoon in the pub. She's seeing a therapist, but a few pints with a willing listener proves more healing. Being Irish, I come from a culture that shares this trait with the Brits, but I rarely see it expressed in British cinema. I usually have to look to the cinema of Japan and Korea to see my culture's emotional repression on the screen.

the souvenir part two review

This repression extends beyond Julie. In an emotionally devastating yet beautifully underplayed scene, Julie accidentally breaks a replica Etruscan vase her mother (Tilda Swinton) has spent three months making as part of a ceramics course. Her mom insists all is well, but Swinton senior plays it in a way that tells us she's dying inside. When we're Julie's age, we too often fail to see our parents as having lives and interests beyond simply being our parents. Julie can't grasp what the vase meant to her mother, an expression of artistry as valid as the film she herself is attempting to make. Or perhaps it wasn't an accident and Julie is jealous that her mother could make her artistic vision whole in a way she's struggling to. Or maybe she just wanted someone else to feel a little hurt.

Julie's journey sees her attempt to fill the void left by Anthony by hooking up with a manipulative actor and striking out in asking a fellow student back to her place, only to learn he's gay. One of the great things about Hogg's two films is how brutally honest she is about Julie's self-centred ways. After her gay classmate lends an ear to her problems, he mentions that his boyfriend hasn't been well. Given the time period, it's clear what he's getting at, but Julie is too self-consumed to return the favour and lend her own ear. Hogg never hides Julie's privilege (she gets to realise her artistic vision with the help of a £10,000 loan from Mommy), but she never pretends that said privilege can ever dull Julie's pain. You can't write a cheque for grief.

In Richard Ayoade's Patrick, an egotistical filmmaker struggling to realise his vision of an Absolute Beginners style musical, we get a glimpse of the artist Julie might become. Questioned by an interviewer, Patrick argues the case for the musical as a necessary form of escapism. Hogg seems to concur, as she closes her film with a Minnelli-esque fantasy sequence like those that end The Band Wagon and An American in Paris. In a way, The Souvenir: Part II is Hogg's Two Weeks in Another Town, a postmodern companion piece to her own The Bad and the Beautiful.

the souvenir part two review

The Souvenir films might boast one of the most quietly fascinating protagonists of recent British cinema, but they're also packed with supporting characters so vividly realised that you may find yourself longing for a set of spinoff movies, a Souvenir cinematic universe. Despite her limited screen time, Julie's mom is one of the all-time great screen mothers. Every time she's onscreen she's consoling her daughter, but we're always thinking about what she might be going through in her own life. Julie's father (James Spencer Ashworth) is one of those great laid back dads who supports his little girl in any venture she undertakes, even if he can't get his head around it. Like most men, he's oblivious to what the women in his life are going through, which leads to some lovely comic moments.

A final scene suggests that Hogg has closed the book on this particular world, but she's left us with two beautiful souvenirs to display on our blu-ray shelves.

The Souvenir: Part Two
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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