Arts and Culture

Review: The Souvenir Part II @ London Film Festival

In crafting an entirely personal vision of her grief, Joanna Hogg has made a universal portrait of the uncertainty of entering the world with a part of you missing. 

Picking up just days after the heart-wrenching finale of 2019’s The Souvenir, this semi-autobiographical sequel follows Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne, daughter of Tilda) through her final year of film school as she navigates her way through the grieving process following the death of her heroin-addict boyfriend Anthony (Tom Burke).

In a stroke of meta-fictional genius from Hogg, Julie, on the advice of the outrageously snobby and hilarious filmmaker Patrick (Richard Ayoade), drunk on his own ego, begins to “make a memorial” for Anthony in the form of her dissertation film. This allows Hogg to fully interrogate the intentions and personal journey of the previous film, whether it was ethically – and emotionally – proper to make a film about her own experience when the leading man has no agency over his involvement.

Unsupportive lecturers and confused actors add to Julie’s struggles as she attempts to work through her sorrows. The cast are baffled by her direction on set, and how could they ever get it? Every relationship is specific, imbued with its own intimacies, experiences, shared moments, and the dynamic between Julie and Anthony was hardly conventional, with its golden brown wall between the pair. Any actor trying to tap into that will struggle, but Julie asserts her agency as a young filmmaker, pushes on despite their protestations. In a collaborative medium she has a singular experience to exorcise, and Swinton Byrne perfectly portrays the perseverance required to push through any complaints, while clearly still fragile and unsure herself. 

Even among the others who grieve – Anthony’s family, her own mother (played with subtle brilliance by her actual mother, Tilda Swinton), their friends – her experience is an isolating one. She knew his cruelty and his sensitivity in a way only a romantic partner could. She was the victim of his addictions harshest depravity and the welcome target of his soul’s tenderest touch. No acting student or snooty lecturer could understand the million words transmitted in one silent moment, no matter how much they think they might.

The non-grieving claim to understand, claim to be there, until Julie’s grief exposes itself in its rawest, messiest form. Through sharing this entirely unique experience of grief (as well as expressing its entire buildup and circumstance in the first instalment), Hogg captures the universal desire for freedom from the chains of that feeling. The uncertainty of those first steps towards the rest of her life, the fear of going too fast, the shame of being seen as too slow.

The Souvenir Part II will be released in UK cinemas on February 4.

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