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  Souvenir Part II, The Tributes Paid
Year: 2021
Director: Joanna Hogg
Stars: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade, James Spencer Ashworth, Alice McMillan, Arianne Labed, Jaygann Ayeh, James Dodds, Gail Ferguson, Yasmin Paige, Charlie Heaton, Harris Dickinson, Joe Alwyn, Tosin Cole, Tom Burke, James Fox
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Anthony is dead, and nobody knows what to say to his girlfriend left behind, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne). She is recuperating from the shock back at her parents' house, spending her time in bed as they gingerly try to encourage her to get over it, since nobody apart from Julie really believed he was worthy of her. She wonders on what he did not tell her as much as what he did, did he have a job in the Foreign Office as he claimed, or was he stringing her along, for example? But as his parents explain, it is going to be very difficult to get to the heart of who this man was. So Julie decides to make a souvenir...

You don't often get sequels in the arthouse world, probably thanks to filmmakers believing they have said all they need to say in the one film and even if they wanted to, raising funds to continue what most would consider done and dusted would always be tricky, unlike the franchise system of bigger budget works. And yet here we were with writer and director Joanna Hogg telling anyone who would listen that her acclaimed item of autobiography The Souvenir had always been planned as two films operating in tandem with one another, no matter that you did not particularly need to see one as well as the other.

But it would help to see part one before part two, if only because Julie's fascination with Anthony made more sense in the latter half. Before, we in the audience could tell he was a shady character and found it difficult to accept just how far Julie trusted him, and not even considering he was played by the master of posh menace Tom Burke, either, but here are she prepares to move on from what was a seismic occasion in her life, we gain fresh insight. Though obviously Hogg herself had not moved on from her experience completely, or she would not have been making films about this man over thirty years later.

As much an examination of how others pussyfoot around the bereaved, if only because they just do not know what to say, The Souvenir Part II was yet another in the twenty-twenties cycle of grieving movies, a surprisingly broad church as it was turning out to be by this stage. Hogg's own polite reserve was a trademark of her style, and enabled her to be more incisive when she went in close for a sharp observation that could take you unawares, though she went a little too far in that respect by giving Richard Ayoade as a fellow film student such an abrasive, cruel personality that may have been based in experience, but threatened to overbalance the tone when you don't know if it was all right to laugh at him or not.

And when we got to see the fruits of Julie's labours (not those kinds of labours, though there are strong hints she may be pregnant) they skirted the edge of pretentious self-indulgence very closely indeed, only rescued by the callback to The Tales of Hoffman, the cult opera film known for its visual audacity and perhaps not coincidentally a favourite of executive producer Martin Scorsese. Nevertheless, it was bracing to see a previously realistic story go all out for the surreal, and you did admire the director for not going a safe route in depicting the most important thing in Julie's pampered existence so far, a major upset. Yet maybe the most alarming aspect was not any of the flies in the ointment that can mess things up, but an act that Julie perpetrated that could have been avoided. It seems minor, but breaking the sugar pot her mother (Tilda Swinton) made and was so proud of is a perfect summation of how thoughtless Julie can be, and the damage she can wreak. Politely.

[The Souvenir Part II is available on Blu-ray from Picture House Entertainment, with a behind the scenes featurette and trailer as extras.

Alternatively, click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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