The deeply personal and "partly" autobiographical filmmaking of Joanna Hogg returns to the story started in 2019's The Souvenir. Hogg has talked about utilizing her memory to tell this story and memory plays a big part in this sequel. Hogg finds an emotional truth in this process and makes one of the year's better films in the process. The Souvenir Part II is a wonderful portrait of a young female filmmaker crafted with care and empathy.
The film picks up pretty quickly after the event in part one. Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is still in film school. She is healing after the romance with Anthony (Tom Burke) that was the focus of the first film. Anthony was a heroin addict, unknown to Julie, and his addiction led to his death. Julie is trying to find herself as she works towards her thesis project. In a daring move, she rejects the project she was working on before Anthony's death and much to the frustration of her professors, decides to make a film about her troubled relationship. Her affluent mother (Swinton Byrne's real mother Tilda Swinton) is supportive but emotionally vague. Still, she supports the film financially when the school refuses to, believing her story is unformed.
The truth is, her story is unformed because it is still so raw. In making a film about her relationship with Anthony, she seems to search to understand it. This leads to several great production scenes where Julie figures out what she wants and how she will show it. This enrages her cameraman and confuses her cast and crew but she grows stronger with every decision. The process lets Julie learn who she is, even if the relationship will always haunt her with things unanswered. The process of watching her gain confidence while exploring her own naïveté during this recent time is fascinating.
The Souvenir Part II is a mirrored film, often being a film about a film. Its final shot is perfection and reveals an aware layer to the entire film. The film is also funny in a way that part one could not be. The pokes at film school, characterized by the hilarious Richard Ayoade playing a snobby filmmaker who wears a faux fur coat, chain smokes, and regular throws a tantrum. It is to Hogg's credit that she can deafly weave in moments of levity and wit into a film that could be rather somber.
The Souvenir Part II is a marvelous look at the creative process and the way in which an artist can portray only themselves authentically. The film's only fantasy sequence is one of the best sequences of the year. In it, Julie is at her first screening but it morphs into scenes that play off her memories. It encapsulates everything special about Hogg's filmmaking.