HANNA BERNARD reviews The Souvenir: Part II, as we re-enter the world that Joanna Hogg first created in her 2019 film The Souvenir.
The Souvenir: Part II (2022), released in the UK this month, is the sequel to Joanna Hogg’s 2019 film The Souvenir. In this sequel, the director relates the partly autobiographical story of Julie, who is mourning the death of Anthony, her boyfriend. Sad and bruised, she throws herself into the making of her graduation film.
Through this second part of her saga, Hogg sought to portray the process of mourning, recovery and reconstruction; yet this second facet seems to be erased by the weight given to the depiction of Julie’s pain. The story thus becomes one of a grief-stricken woman turning quasi-obsessively to her surroundings, seeking memories of Anthony. Her graduation film, supposed to be the escape from her grief, is in fact an illusionary loophole, as Julie switched her topic to make it an oneiric homage to her relationship.
From a filmographic point of view, this movie is particularly interesting: it uses an extensive variety of shots, such as a wide-angle subjective shot taken via the door peephole, offering the spectator Julie’s perspective. Filmography aside, however, the movie lacks unity. On screen, characters evolve, short episodes follow one another, mostly without any apparent coherence. The scenes take us back and forth from filming sets to long and languid close-ups of a variety of fruits and flowers. It seems that the director intended, through these highly contemplative interludes, to show life rushing on, even while Julie’s thoughts, stuck in time, are only focused on her deceased boyfriend. Yet this has the counterproductive effect of leaving viewers behind, as a thousand different stories are grazed over, with none of them ever detailed. The attention of the viewer is scattered by each unrelated scene set forth as heavily meaningful. A full scene, for example, is dedicated to Julie’s parents, discussing at length a pot made in pottery class by her mother, which we see Julie unintentionally break a few scenes later. This later scene, meant to feel highly symbolic, leaves the viewer puzzled. We do not get the opportunity to linger on it, however, as we are quickly transported to another episode.
The movie tends to feel like a very long slideshow, with a few living pictures. In a sequence of consecutive scenes, Julie is writing in what appears to be an elegant restaurant. Before the viewer can make sense of the scene, Julie is already on a sofa which seems suspended in place and time, because the spectator has no idea where she is. We have no time to give it a second thought, however, because here is our protagonist in a bed, and here is a close-up on a cigarette case, followed by a long shot of clouds and raspberries. A viewing of the first movie would have enlightened you on diverse elements of context, such as the fact that the mysterious restaurant was the place where she first went out with Anthony, or that the cigarette case belonged to him. A lack of context, however, might render this sequence a tad tedious to watch. Without the first film, the relations between characters appear superficial: some characters come along for the length of one scene, and we barely get a glimpse of them, before they disappear and are never shown again.
The Souvenir: Part II undeniably lacks spatio-temporal markers for the spectator to hold onto. With the exception of one scene in which we see Julie compulsively crying in front of a television broadcasting the fall of the Berlin Wall – allowing us to situate the movie in time – this film might have been set today, or any time in the last forty years. This timelessness could be intentional, imitating Julie’s own loss of temporal awareness, but it increases the viewer’s sense of puzzlement.
Joanna Hogg’s aim, with The Souvenir: Part II, could be summarised by Julie’s statement, when presenting her graduate film project to her professors: ‘I don’t want to show the world as I see it; I want to show the world as I imagine it’. Yet ultimately, this film conveys the feeling of a jumble of thoughts assembled without a filter, leaving us perplexed about what, exactly, she is intending to show.
Thanks to the BFI Southbank for providing tickets. The Souvenir: Part II is showing at BFI Southbank from 18-24 February.
Featured Image: IMDB