In Review

Film review: The Souvenir Part II 

A fine sequel to Joanna Hogg’s arthouse hit

Joanna Hogg scored “a deserved arthouse hit” with 2019’s The Souvenir, said Alistair Harkness in The Scotsman – “a brilliantly rendered slice of self-lacerating autofiction dramatising her early years as a young film student in 1980s London”. The Souvenir Part II picks up where the first film left off. Hogg’s alter ego Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is reeling from the death of her boyfriend Anthony (Tom Burke), and decides to “process her grief by using her imminent thesis film to try and find out who he really was” – and “who she is” at the same time. “Heavy going as it sounds”, the film is “drily funny”, with “layers of meta-gags courtesy of Tilda Swinton’s return as Julie’s artistically dissatisfied mother” Rosalind, and Richard Ayoade’s hilarious turn as a pretentious film-maker. 

Swinton Byrne is once again “terrific”, said Deborah Ross in The Spectator, but the real stars here are her posh on-screen parents. They clearly love their only child, but “can only nibble at the edges of showing that”; watching them fail to emote is “painfully touching”. If Hogg were to make The Souvenir Part III: Rosalind and James Walk Their Springer Spaniels, I’d watch it in a shot. This film won’t delight everyone – there’s not much plot (Hogg simply “presents her actors with a prose synopsis and they go from there”), and as a film about film-making, the whole thing is “super-meta” – but I was riveted. 

Alas, I found it all rather empty, said Kevin Maher in The Times. The film is “rigorously shot” and “intellectually cogent”, but it sacrifices emotional heft for “smarty-pants postmodernism”, and is so wrapped up in what happened in Part I that it seems totally bereft of “any visceral beats of its own”.

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