The Souvenir: Part II review - One of the most beautiful and extraordinary films of the year

·2-min read

Martin Scorsese, quite rightly, thinks Joanna Hogg is one of Britain’s greatest film-makers. He helped produce her semi-autobiographical drama The Souvenir, and was on hand to assist with the sequel, which features lashings of menstrual blood, a junkie’s ghost, opulent dreamscapes, cracking jokes, a dashing cameo from Joe Alwyn and a pop video to die for.

It’s one of the most beautiful and extraordinary films of the year. In all honesty, though, the plot boils down to: sensitive student completes thesis project. If meta-textual introspection ain’t your thing, you may spend 106 minutes wanting to strangle heroine Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne).

Assuming it IS your thing, you don’t need to have watched the first film to enjoy the second one. Hogg does a fine job of bringing newcomers up to date. Basically, Julie’s romance with a secret heroin addict Anthony (Tom Burke) catapulted her into a gorgeous circle of hell. Still reeling from her lover’s death, Julie is keen to turn her and Anthony’s doomed romance into Art and, as part of her final film school project, starts the storyboarding and casting process. The trouble is, once filming begins, Julie can’t seem to communicate her vision. Cast and crew think Julie’s too much of a mess to make the sad tale relevant to anyone but herself.

Honor Swinton Byrne (Handout)
Honor Swinton Byrne (Handout)

As Julie flails, The Souvenir Part II blossoms. Our heroine’s professional and personal humiliations are conveyed with precision, while a frenemy from Part I – flamboyant film-maker Patrick (Richard Ayoade) - is even funnier this time round, as well as sadder and more agitated. Patrick airily damns “junkies” but, as the film slyly makes clear, he’s no Steady Eddie himself.

In every way, the sequel deepens and darkens what’s gone before. In The Souvenir, Julie’s posh parents, Rosalind and William (Tilda Swinton and James Spencer Ashworth), were made to look perfect: supportive, decent, etc. This time, metaphorically speaking, Hogg opts for less flattering angles. And Tilda, as you might expect, spins such ambiguity into dramatic gold.

Her real-life daughter is just as impressive. In fact, it’s partly down to Swinton Byrne’s somnambulant sweetness that it’s so moving when Julie (finally) realises her own strength.

At one point, thanks to editing-suite trickery, a camera zips into Julie’s outstretched hand. It’s like the thrilling moment in The Red Shoes, where the ballet slippers leap onto Vicky Page’s feet. Except, this time, the gifted female protagonist will be rewarded, not punished, for having ambition.

Hogg, like Scorsese, obviously adores the work of Powell and Pressburger, but this is such a 21st century epic. It’s also highly addictive. Yikes. What will we do if Hogg’s unwilling to supply a Part III?

106mins 12A.In cinemas from January 21

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