To make a movie about yourself and not have it feel overly indulgent is a difficult task – to give your autobiography a sequel and pull off the same trick is something else entirely, a challenge that almost any director would fail to rise to. Joanna Hogg is not just any director. With The Souvenir Part 2, she completes the auto-fictional story of student filmmaker Julie Harte (Honor Swinton-Byrne) with such style and good humour that it doesn’t just leave you beaming when the credits roll, but actively elevates the prior film, crafting a two-part masterwork that is the yardstick against which so many future British coming-of-agers will be measured.
We pick up pretty soon after the original Souvenir left off, with Julie recovering at home from the death of her mercurial but tortured boyfriend Anthony (Tom Burke), looked after by her attentive mother Rosalind (Tilda Swinton). Hogg doesn’t linger too long on the tragedy itself, instead using it as a springboard for Julie’s creative awakening, as her bereavement inspires her to switch her graduation film from her earnest-sounding but maybe misjudged documentary about working-class life in Sunderland to a stylised account of her and Anthony’s final days together.
Cleverly, Part 2 makes no attempt to really ‘replace’ Anthony – Julie does have a fling with gruff actor Jim (Charlie Heaton) and makes a pass at her charming editor (played by Joe Alwyn), but this is a film less about romance than remembrance. Questions from her actors, particularly leading man Pete (Harris Dickinson), force her to reassess both her relationship and herself, and Swinton-Byrne does a fantastic job selling Julie’s gradual growth as she finds her voice, both personally and artistically. Naturally, this being a Joanna Hogg film, the emotions are somewhat tamped down by the omnipresent English middle-class reserve, but the depth of feeling is still sincere, and this is easily her funniest film to date.
A lot of this is down to Richard Ayoade, who is unbelievably good in the returning and expanded role of the pretentious Patrick, who is making a musical at the same time as Julie shoots her film. Literally every line Hogg gives Ayoade gets a proper laugh, a perfect fusion of writing and performing all the way until his final scene, where he literally flounces out of the entire film. As Julie’s producer Marland, Jaygann Ayeh is also very funny, going to war with anyone who challenges Julie’s vision.
It’s very rare to laugh as much as you do in a film that is also as visually gorgeous as this – the only comparable recent example I can think of is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. Hogg’s beautiful use of colour and simply staggering compositions are the kind of technical mastery most often reserved for crushingly serious dramas. It’s beautiful from start to finish, and the execution of Julie’s final film towards the climax is just breathtaking, Hogg reimagining the events of the first Souvenir through a Powell and Pressburger-esque lens in a gloriously meta finale.
For an auteur to be allowed to execute a vision as singular as this across two separate films is a minor miracle, and Hogg doesn’t let a single frame go to waste. The end result is a thrilling synthesis of comedy, self-reflection, and pure creativity that cements Hogg as one of this country’s absolute finest filmmakers.