The Souvenir: Part II: Will There Be Another Time?, by David Bax
It’s not exactly homework to re-watch one of the best movies of the last five years so, if you have a chance, you might want give The Souvenir another look before heading out to see Joanna Hogg’s follow-up, The Souvenir: Part II, because it picks up almost immediately after the events of the earlier film. It’s less a sequel than the second half of the same movie and, now that I’ve seen both, I don’t know how I ever thought of the first half as anything else.
As an immediate continuation, Part II finds Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) in a depressive mode after the death of her older, troubled boyfriend Anthony (I guess that’s a spoiler but what are you doing reading this review if you haven’t even seen the first movie?). She’s dragging around her parents’ house in pajamas that she insists are “not pajamas” in one of the film’s earliest laugh lines, an indicator of what’s to come. Despite Julie’s dreary mood, Part II is considerably funnier than its predecessor, due in no small part to the increased role of the previous movie’s single-scene stealer Richard Ayoade as a pompous but undeniably cool older director to whom film student Julie turns for advice on the subjects of both filmmaking and Anthony, which become one and the same when she reimagines her thesis film to be about their relationship, pivoting from the dilettantism of the dockworker drama she spent the first film preparing.
There is plenty that is mournful about Part II but the dominant impression is how much more open and free it feels. Most of that is down to the compassionate performance of Byrne. She shows us how Julie has grown from her experiences and the world of The Souvenir expands with her. Grace Snell’s costume design also deserves kudos here, not just because everyone looks impeccably 80s, British, cigarette-smoking cool all of the time but also because of how the changes in Julie are reflected in her clothes. The much louder patterns and fabrics than she previously wore intentionally recall Anthony’s bolder sartorial choices; it’s a piece of him she has absorbed.
Part II is more open in at least one other way, too, making the au courant choice to mix aspect ratios. The reality of the film we’re watching maintains the 1.66:1 shape but films within the film expand beyond that, pointedly but effectively reminding us that art is life blown up so we can see it better.
Julie certainly does plenty of close study of her own life in making her film, more so even than she likely intended. Part II is, at times, like a film about the making of part one, a self-deconstruction that’s not surprising give that the affair as a whole is a semi-autobiographical film in which Hogg’s stand-in is making a semi-autobiographical film about herself. When the actress playing the part based on Julie comments that the character seems implausibly naïve, it’s just one of many moments that vibrate all the way up the film and into the extratextual sphere.
Moments like that make it especially humorous when Ayoade’s character asks Julie about her finished film, “Did you resist the temptation to be obvious?” The answer–on both Julie’s part and Hogg’s–is both yes and, gloriously, no. Many of the connections made in both movies are obvious. That doesn’t come from laziness, though, but rather from a clarity of purpose. The Souvenir: Part II has all of the unwithered exuberance of a student film but made by someone with the maturity to know where to direct it.