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The Souvenir Part II, Cannes review: Pleasurable sequel rakes over much of the same ground

Joanna Hogg’s hauntingly autobiographical sequel is full of gentle social observations

Geoffrey Macnab
Thursday 08 July 2021 14:26 BST
Trailer for 2019’s ‘The Souvenir’

Dir: Joanna Hogg. Starring: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade, Joe Alwyn, Charlie Heaton. 106 mins

There is a sense of Chinese boxes about Joanna Hogg’s sequel to her 2019 film The Souvenir – which receives its world premiere in the Cannes “Directors’ Fortnight” today (8 July). The filmmaker is telling an autobiographical story about herself as an autobiographical young filmmaker trying to tell an autobiographical story about herself.

The new feature – again executive produced by Martin Scorsese – has most of the strengths of Hogg’s first voyage into her own past. There is another affecting, subtle and sensitive performance from Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie, Hogg’s filmmaking avatar. There are plenty of Hogg’s gentle social observations, and some memorable supporting performances from Tilda Swinton (Honor’s real-life mother, again playing her onscreen mum) and Richard Ayoade as a movie director who is young but already jaded and cynical.

This is moving and very evocative filmmaking. If it doesn’t ultimately have quite the same emotional kick as its first episode, that’s probably because it is raking over much of the same ground. That, though, is part of the pleasure too. The new film serves as a commentary on its predecessor.

Matters pick up where the first Souvenir (which is also screening this week in Cannes) left off. It’s the 1980s. Julie is still getting over the death of Anthony (Tom Burke), the louche, drug-addicted older man with whom she had such a tempestuous relationship. She is having new affairs, but now with lovers of her own age. She is back at film school, but her tutors are suspicious of the direction in which her work is heading. Instead of making social realist kitchen sink projects in Sunderland, she is determined to make more personal and self-reflexive films. They’re so sceptical that they refuse to finance her graduation project.

Julie comes from privilege and lives in a flat in Knightsbridge. If she runs out of cash, “mummy” will generally be around to write a cheque. Some of the most poignant and comic scenes here come when Julie visits her parents in their shires home. They’re a tweedy couple who struggle to understand their daughter’s choice of career but remain deeply devoted to her. Hogg is such a brilliant observer of behaviour that she can make the most commonplace, everyday scenes – lunches, walks in the fields with the dogs – seem mysterious and fascinating. When Julie breaks a piece of her mother’s home-made crockery, it is treated as something deeply ominous.

Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie in ‘The Souvenir Part II' (Picturehouse Entertainment/A24)

It is rumoured that Hogg has a third Souvenir film already on the way. In theory, she could carry on working in the same vein indefinitely. Nobody would complain if she did. In turning inward and using her own life as her source material, she has struck a very rich seam indeed.

‘The Souvenir Part II’ will be released in UK cinemas later this year

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