Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 12, 2021 10:38 pm 
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A conclusion of Hogg's brilliant and brave self-portrait of herself as a film school student in the eighties

Those who loved Joanna Hogg's 2019 The Souvenir may welcome her The Souvenir: Part II as a familiar friend. It contains many of the same distinctive, well-crafted elements and the autobiographical stand-ins for her and her mother and father. The obsessive efforts to replicate details from her own life as a twenty-something in film school also continue. We appreciate the effort to be honest through such precision. There is a deepening in Part II.

I did love The Souvenir, and so could not help but approach its sequel with eagerness, almost a sense of pre-ownership. But after finding Part II 's latter part, after a deliciously satisfying first half, seemed fractured and confused, it occurs to me that this sequel starts at a disadvantage. It lacks the first part's bombshell: the revelation that the protagonist's very posh-seeming boyfriend is actually a heroin addict, followed by his sudden death from a drug overdose. Tom Burke, fascinating as he is repulsive as Anthony, the boyfriend, is missing from Part II, though Anthony is felt by his absence: his death has left Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) devastated. But Part II lacks the drama of the first part. What it has is boldly self-conscious artfulness in its editing, and the fanciful artiness of its inserted artifact.

Part II is about Julie's reacting to this trauma and "processing" it by the brave (and potentially florid) means of converting her emotions into her film school graduation film. Whether you find Part II as good as The Souvenir, or better, or almost as good, or something of a disappointment will depend on how you respond to the graduation film, entitled "The Souvenir," as presented as a film-within-a-film.

Details of The Souvenir: Part II will be familiar and layered by memories of its predecessor; on the other hand, people who haven't seen that may be losing quite a bit. Maybe that's appropriate, in a way, given that Hogg and her alter ego, Julie, come from English privilege, with which come secret understandings. Hogg again develops the theme of her polite but loving relationship with her posh parents (Tilda Swinton, Honor's real life mother, superbly subtle here; and the non-professional but perfect James Spencer Ashworth). Julie isn't afraid to ask her mother for substantial gifts of money, this time ten thousand 1980's pounds, and her mother quickly forgives her for smashing a much-prized first effort at ceramic-making.

Equally important are scenes, as before, with her school faculty, a group of stodgy men (insufferable white-privilege types) who didn't initially like her plan of a film about the impoverished working class North of Sunderland in the first film, and now disapprove even more of her plan to do something utterly personal and uncommercial. And the friendships and interactions between Julie and her fellow film students deepen now. She has quick sex with one of the actors (Charlie Heaton), who comes to her flat, fucks her, and leaves, in a scene astonishing in its animalistic simplicity. Now we see her making her film with her intense student crew, where her producer is Marland (Jaygann Aheh), the black guy who was her strong support, from before; a French woman, Garance (Ariane Labed), who smokes a lot, has lots of doubts, does casting, and becomes the alter ego (the Anthony becomes hottie Harris Dickenson); her sweet editor (Joe Alwyn), who seems about to become her boyfriend till we learn he has a boyfriend with AIDS; and the cameraman, infuriated by her changing a shot that's been all set up, complains that the whole thing is an incomprehensible mess. Whatever it is, it's all a memorial to Anthony, her dead addict lover, as her at-one-remove semi-comic but decisive advisor Patrick (Richard Ayoade), also briefly memorable in the earlier film, tells her it must be. The way the two Souvenirs use Ayoade shows a greater ability to integrate unrelated, and more satirical characters and elements than she showed in her earlier films. Here she is, past sixty, after three very distinctive earlier features, a slow developer, after thirty years coming into her own with a bold and sprawling experiment.

Some admire the film-within-the-film extravagantly. Richard Brody describes it as "an aesthetic and emotional thrill" that he thinks has unfortunately much more "cinematic imagination" than the rest of the film. Justin Chang says it's partly an homage to Derek Jarman. It seems to me all over the place and hard to make much sense of, at least in one viewing, and its jumble of styles didn't leave me eager to come back to it. All the rest sings, but the trouble is this big indigestible lump near the end.

The "real time" parts are woven together with large gorgeous closeups of flowers, appearing related to Julie's parents' "farm," which seems like a vast, beautiful garden. Scenes are intensely present but intentionally cryptic, conversations cut off after a question without the answer. They are like filmic versions of Howard Hodgkin paintings. Julie doesn't say much but doesn't have to: we are Julie, so her answsers are internalized: they're The Souvenir, the first film, which constitutes our and her memory going into Part II. Even if Part II isn't satisfying, and inevitably isn't as tantalizing and exciting as its predecessor, the two films together are a remarkable achievement, personally as well as artistically, since the real "Julie," that is Joanna Hogg, wasn't as brave as her alter ego. She didn't confront her bereavement as a film school student but took over thirty years to get to it. But it's been worth waiting for.

The Souvenir: Part II, 107 mins., debuted at Cannes July 8, 2021 in Directors Fortnight, and appeared in 13 other festivals including Zurich, New York, Busan, London before its US theatrical release Oct. 29, 2021. Metacritic rating: 89% (The Souvenir: 91%.)

Nice admiring review in Time by Stephanie Zacharek: she began weeping when she got to the subway - the mark of a great film. I didn't start to be moved till eight hours later. Justin Chang loved the semi-comic but accurate picture of the filmmaking process.


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