“Did you avoid the temptation to be obvious?”
Pulled from her own life’s events, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir: Part II is a beautifully constructed film that details the coming of age frustrations that exist for creatives as they work to find and stand up for their voice.
Part II reunites mother-daughter duo Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton Byrne as Rosalind and Julie Harte. Swinton Byrne’s Julie is a somewhat stand-in for Hogg, who crafts a meta-memoir of sorts about the loss of her lover. Julie hasn’t gotten past his death, contemplating if she misses the man or the intimacy they shared.
She processes many of her emotions through film, working tirelessly to complete her short, the last requirement for graduation. Her school doesn’t see or understand her vision. But Julie holds firm, her colleagues willing to join her for the ride as she continues to evolve and navigate her current situation.
Layered with emotional complexity, Hogg tells her story with both elegance and fragility. She stays the course, thematically never veering too far off-center. It’s a rare thing, maintaining the integrity from start to finish. Even the unexpected, like an intimate moment between Swinton Byrne and Charlie Heaton’s Jim, is handled in such a way that it, to a degree, seems benign.
Swinton Byrne delivers a powerful performance as Julie, encapsulating a woman who embarks on a journey of self-discovery during a period of mass uncertainty. Her movements, occasionally timid, personality her approach, giving root to her path. Surrounded by a systematic world telling her what to say, how to feel, and how to act, she longs for the freedom to express and create without structure.
While the film excels behind her performance, the entire cast deserves high praise as the ensemble pushes the narrative forward. Each serving a specific purpose, they mold together for the greater good, bringing to life a community of people that further expands on Julie’s experience.
Hogg uses the arts to showcase the growth of a singular being. Many will be lost or disinterested in the behind-the-scenes details. But the film within a film is a critical component to the story, allowing us to watch Julie work within herself to better understand her voice and perspective. The evolution is sharp, even as those around her don’t take to her style.
A heated conversion in the car after a tough day shooting highlights the importance of the supporting players. While Julie sits silently in the backseat, their aggressive exchange is equally frustrating and deafening, personifying her feeling of isolation. Granted, she does have a support system, both at home and on set; however, her journey is one that she must venture forth alone, even if only temporarily.
On the night of her short film’s screening, we bear witness to Julie’s perspective. It’s unique, unexpected, and unconventional. Based on Hogg’s personal life, the metaphor cannot be understated as she too possesses a special gift. In many others’ hands, Part II would not work. But she has crafted an enriching portrait that showcases her remarkable style of storytelling.