There are many types of ‘souvenirs’ that a traumatic relationship can leave on the soul. However, sometimes, those moments of pain can help us uncover truths about ourselves that we never saw before.
As the follow-up to her masterful 2019 film The Souvenir, The Souvenir Part II picks up in the aftermath of film student Julie’s (Honor Swinton Byrne) turbulent relationship with her ex-lover, Anthony. Although he has passed away, the sting of his abuse remains fresh on Julie’s life and she is left to untangle her complicated love for him. In order to do so, she channels her grief into the production of her graduation film project in an attempt to unravel the complexities of her inner feelings through her art.
Directed by Joanna Hogg, The Souvenir Part II is a poetic and profound exploration of grief and hope. Through her creativity and visuals, Hogg breaks down the barriers between reality and art with a poetic lens. In Hogg’s world, art and life are one in the same, playing with and inspiring each other. (She even includes a moment of the poetry of Christina Rosetti as a manner of processing within the film.) As a result, although the story is fictional, it’s breaking of its own rules somehow grounds it more deeply in reality. Though the narrative flows (mostly) naturally, the film emphasizes the importance of its aesthetic in its storytelling. In other words, Hogg wants the viewer to feel its truth, rather than simply spell it out. (After all, that would be “too obvious”, as Julie is reminded.)
Anchored by a truly remarkable (albeit muted) performance by star Honor Swinton Byrne, Part II ebs and flows with Julie’s emotional arc. This is not some impersonal sequel designed to make money but the fully realized next chapter in the story. Hogg takes the time to shed some light into the life of her lead character as she grapples with the complexities of the death of her former partner. Despite the fact that their relationship was one fueled by toxicity yet she still remained drawn to Anthony. Now, after his death, Julie is left with as many questions about her life as she is about his. His abusiveness has stolen a part of her soul and now, she is looking to fill the void.
In this way, there’s a weight of loneliness and insecurity that initially pervades Hogg’s script. Recovering from a relationship marked by pain, Part II sees Julie attempting to put those pieces back together. For example, as she engages in a one-night stand, Julie finds some brief solace in the experience. However, after her paramour exits her apartment, she is left alone and feeling empty. In a moment pregnant with pause, she stares at the stain on her bed sheets as the only reminder of a night that meant nothing to either participant.
However, through the process of creating her student film, Julie finds a way to process her many different emotions and responses in a healthier manner. There’s a complexity in Julie’s soul that makes it difficult for her to understand herself, let alone communicate her feelings to others. (In fact, despite the honesty she offers through her filmmaking, there are multiple moments within Part II where others have difficulty understanding her script and show their frustration with it.) Struggling to verbally express her inner struggles to those around her, her art becomes her voice.
In this way, rather than simply stating that hope lies on the other side of grief, Hogg allows the script to sit there in difficult moments as Julie attempts to understand her feelings. For Hogg, there is beauty in these spaces between grief and peace. With each sorrow-filled glance, Julie is felt to be contemplative within her quiet. She is not trying to wallow in her pain or to quickly ‘move on’. Instead, she seeks to separate truth from fiction within her former relationship and her own life.
Even so, Hogg never allows the film to remain in the darkness. In fact, Part II is a film that ends on a note of hope. While Julie processes her own story, so too does she begin to see that there is a way forward for her. Although she may feel loneliness and sadness, she also discovers a newfound strength within herself. In other words, her ability to work through her grief through her filmmaking reveals to an independence and self-confidence that had been lacking. While her relationship with Anthony has left its mark, Julie is not going to be defined by it and she begins to chart her own path forward.
Stunning and soulful, The Souvenir Part II is a challenging piece that allows the viewer to be immersed by the power of grief but never abandons hope for its lead. As Julie leans into the intricacies of the feelings left behind by her ex-boyfriend, Hogg refuses to let his abuse become her identity. Julie must navigate through her trauma in her own way. When she does, she discovers that the true Souvenir left by Anthony is not a picture.
For Julie, the true Souvenir is the courage that his toxicity forces her to find within herself.
To hear our interview with writer/director Joanna Hogg, click here.
The Souvenir Part II is now playing in theatres.