Review by Sean Boelman
Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is something of an unsung masterpiece, beloved among the cinephile community but having received little interest or awareness outside of its core niche audience. The sequel seems destined to a similar fate, a specific and personal exploration of the filmmaker’s personal experience.
Set during the aftermath of her relationship in the first film, this movie follows a film student who channels her emotions into her graduation project. It’s definitely not the most accessible movie, as it blends aspects of melodrama and meta-filmmaking in a combination which won’t be relatable to everyone but will be very resonant for those with whom it does connect.
A lot of the complaints aimed at the first film come from its slow pacing and dry nature, and that isn’t as much the case here. There is a much more buoyant air to this movie because of the sense of humor it has compared to the last one’s darker exploration of themes of addiction. And the surreal and dreamlike nature of the film goes a long way in making it more immersive.
Whereas the first movie was about the protagonist having her own experience and trying to tell a story that is not her own, this is about her trying to come to terms with telling her own story. It’s not just a continuation of the first film from a narrative sense, but also a thematic response to it, and the result is surprisingly compelling and thought-provoking.
Something else that stands out about this sequel is that it focuses almost entirely on the protagonist. There are three potential romantic interests, but none of them has a particularly big role, which ties into the protagonist’s arc. It’s a type of growth we have seen done before, but with a level of nuance that makes it effective.
Honor Swinton-Byrne gives yet another breathtaking performance in her leading role. Although it isn’t as quietly devastating of a turn, she still brings a certain power to it that really drives the movie. In an expanded supporting role, Richard Ayoade frequently steals the show. And new additions Charlie Heaton and Joe Alwyn are both good.
From a visual standpoint, the film is undeniably very accomplished. This is particularly the case with the climactic sequence which is quite hypnotic in nature. It’s a gorgeous movie to look at with a sleek edge that makes it feel distinctive. It finds that perfect balance between nostalgia and elegance, making it work quite well.
The Souvenir: Part II definitely does some things better than its predecessor, and while it doesn’t have the same emotional impact, it is an interesting follow-up in a way that few films are. Cinephiles will definitely want to check this duo of movies out.
The Souvenir: Part II hits theaters on October 29.