THE SOUVENIR: PART II (2021)

November 12, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. We tend to think of ‘coming-of-age’ movies as centered on teenagers as they face the challenges of transitioning into adulthood. The reality is that folks come of age during different phases of life (and some seemingly never do). Filmmaker Joanna Hogg continues her autobiographical look back with the follow-up to her exceptional 2019 arthouse film. Is it a sequel? Technically, yes; but it’s more of a continuation, and the two parts actually function best as a single 4-hour story.

Starting off shortly after the first movie ended, part two finds Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) in bed at her parents’ house. They try to comfort her as she grieves the death of Anthony (played so well in the first by Tom Burke). For those who have not seen the 2019 film, I’ll tread lightly as it should be seen prior to this one due to the continuing story line and numerous references. Despite her confusion and despondency, Julie heads back to film school. Using art to deal with her emotions, she starts all over with the script for her graduation film. The Film School committee of like-minded middle-aged men thrash her idea of dealing with her situation on film. Despite their harsh words, she persists.

For such a ‘quiet’ movie, it’s astonishing how many things are going on in Ms. Hogg’s film and in Julie’s world. The jealousies of film school students are noted, as are the discrepancies between overly confident young filmmakers (a brilliant Richard Ayoade) and those still trying to find their voice (Julie). Ayoade’s arrogant Patrick is recognizable to us as a big production filmmaker in the vein of many who have come before him. On the other hand, Julie stumbles over how best to convey the emotions for the actors in her film … a film that is so personal she’s dealing with memories even while setting up scenes.

Honor Swinton Byrne (Tilda Swinton’s daughter) excels at relaying a certain sadness in Julie as she pushes onward. Anthony’s ghost hovers everywhere for her. She bravely visits his parents. The confusion over Anthony’s story, and her shock at not having recognized the signs, are exemplified as she presents the common façade of appearing OK while struggling inside. Julie’s parents, played by (the always great) Tilda Swinton and James Spencer Ashworth walk on egg shells around her, while trying to offer support, despite their detachment – not just from the relationship, but from Julie’s life in general (other than lending her money in times of need).

Supporting work comes from Charlie Heaton, Harris Dickinson, and Ariane Labed, as student actors. In Julie’s film, Ms. Labed plays the role of Julie, which in reality, is the role of Ms. Hogg as a young aspiring filmmaker. Joe Alwyn has a terrific cameo as Julie’s editor in one of the most awkward and tender scenes. Ms. Hogg did not film the two parts simultaneously, but her style is so unique (as an example, songs cut off abruptly mid-scene) that it’s a challenge not to rave about the look and feel. Her talented collaborators include Film Editor Helle le Fevre, who serves up some creative transitions; Production Designer Stephane Collonge, whose sets are crucial in a film with minimal dialogue; and Cinematographer David Radeker whose lensing gives the film the perfect look for its time. Tilda Swinton stars in Ms. Hogg’s upcoming film, THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER; however, we will have to be patient to see if Honor Swinton Byrne continues to pursue acting, a profession to which she seems destined.

In theaters beginning November 12, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER

*link to my review of THE SOUVENIR (2019)


THE SOUVENIR (2019)

May 30, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Viewers of writer-director Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical feature will likely be divided into two distinct groups: those who find it to be a beautifully artistic psychological study, and those who find it to be a painfully slow watch. Fortunately, most who would fall into the latter group will likely skip it altogether, and we can only hope those in the first group will seek it out and encourage similar-minded film fans to attend. Surely both groups can agree that it features a terrific breakout lead performance from Honor Swinton Byrne (daughter of Tilda Swinton).

Ms. Swinton-Byrne stars as Julie, a young London film school student. She’s soon drawn to Anthony (Tom Burke), an odd man who is somehow simultaneously laid back and condescending. Their relationship builds as he works some vague job at the Foreign Office, and giving every indication that something’s not quite right. Many moments of normal life are shown; however we soon learn that Anthony is a master manipulator, and his off-handed requests for ‘a tenner’ or sticking Julie with a restaurant tab go deeper than being a simple jerk. We know heartbreak is coming for her; we just don’t know how when or how hard.

Tilda Swinton (a long-time friend of director Hogg) appears in a few scenes as Julie’s mom, and as you would expect, she perfectly captures the mother-daughter dynamics. Of course Julie is a film student struggling to make ends meet, but with her frequent requests for ‘mom loans’ coinciding with the Anthony relationship, mother knows best. Jean-Honore Fragonard’s 18th century painting gives the film its title, and provides a terrific scene with Julie and Anthony.

Later, when Anthony tells Julie, “You’re inviting me to do this to you”, we recognize this is an abusive relationship similar to those many women have endured. Set in the 1980’s, a doomed relationship looks eerily similar regardless of the era. The film serves as an example of how we sit in judgment of the love lives of others, while often remaining blind (or is it hopelessly optimistic) to our own relationship issues.

Ms. Hogg shot on film and there are some memorable shots throughout – especially within Julie’s apartment. There is a recurring split-screen shot where a wall divides what we see in the kitchen with what’s happening in the living area – we see characters on each side. This is the anti-Marvel movie. No special effects. No superheroes. And the only worlds in peril are those of average, flawed people like us.

There is a segment involving an analysis of Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, and it’s clear director Hogg learned lessons about what not to show. There is also a reference to another Hitchcock classic with the tailored grey suit Tom buys for Julie and their trip to Venice. Alfonso Cuaron scored big with ROMA, a very intimate look at his personal life, and filmmaker Hogg’s film is in that same vein. It’s extremely well made and beautiful to look at, and is likely to be quite challenging for viewers. The payoff comes after much patience and effort and investment into figuring out these characters. It’s an arthouse film with improvised dialogue (bonus points for Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”). This was a grand jury prize winner at Sundance, and the sequel is already in production … good news for some of us, while inexplicable to others.

watch the trailer: