In 2019, Richard Brody (New Yorker magazine’s art house film critic) criticized Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, writing: “A far more conventional director might have been inclined to ask more questions of the script, to show more of the action, to reveal more about the characters, and, as a result, to make a more engaging and insightful movie.”
Brody spoke too soon. A24 does not produce films by conventional directors or screenwriters – quite the opposite. More ironically, The Souvenir Part II clearly reveals Joanna’s intentionally mysterious approach to filmmaking through an exchange of approval between Julie (the main character played by Honor Swinton Byrne) and Patrick (Julie’s filmmaker mentor played by Richard Ayoade). Patrick seems to be her quick-witted antagonist in The Souvenir. However, in the sequel, Patrick becomes Julie’s straight-shooting spirit guide. When he asks her about her film thesis project, he inquires: “Did you avoid the obvious?” She confirms, and he replies: “good decision.”
The Julie character in The Souvenir struggles to get through film school while enabling her creative and controlling boyfriend Anthony (played by Tom Burke). Anthony conceals his heroin addiction, living a double life. Julie’s retro naivete and denial is her creative and psychological block. Her sheltered life prevents Julie from reading the signs; she pays for their dinners in a posh restaurant and unknowingly gives him money for drugs.
Anthony’s cruel criticism, “you are lost and you will always be lost,” becomes her fuel for reinvention and rebirth in the sequel. In The Souvenir Part II, Julie processes Anthony’s overdose and death through a transformative healing process of intense focus on her film, guidance from her supportive mother (played by Tilda Swinton – Honor’s actual mother), therapy sessions, and shadowing Patrick’s film in progress.
The cerebral cinematic climax comes with the realization that Julie – the film student – is recreating the original film itself. The phenomenological intention is brilliantly juxtaposed with the surprise reveal that the alternative and final film project was both a Federico Fellini-inspired collage of memories, as well as a psychological journey that ends with Julie’s transformation. This plot twist is the “avoidance of the obvious” discussion between Julie and Patrick.
The Souvenir, The Souvenir Part II, and Julie’s film-within-the-film are cinematic art because intentional mystery is creative and allows the viewer to make their own interpretation.
The Souvenir, The Souvenir Part II, and Julie’s film-within-the-film are cinematic art because intentional mystery is creative, allowing the viewers to make their own interpretations. Joanna wasn’t interested in merely retelling her own personal story. Simply retelling your own story in film is akin to painting a realistic self-portrait and calling it contemporary art. Film as art is what A24 does best. Fortunately, the independent film industry is preserved through A24 attracting a new generation of indie fans.
Fortunately, the independent film industry is preserved through A24 attracting a new generation of indie fans.
This sequel – The Souvenir Part II – parallels my favorite Federico Fellini film, Juliet of the Spirits. Juliet (a bored housewife played by Giulietta Masina) is naive, in denial, and fears leaving her cheating husband Giorgio (played by Mario Piso). Eccentric friends and voices from her spirit guides teach her to build the strength to leave him. The hallucinatory visual symbolism in both films are so similar: boats, a crazy black hat, Greek tragedy, the color red, parties, pretty boy temptation, spirit guides, and walking or running away.
The obvious difference between the protagonists is Juliet’s lack of feminist options (in the mid-60s) versus Julie coping through her professional ambitions (in the mid-80s). Juliet learns to empower herself through sexual liberation, whereas Julie finds herself through the pain of losing her first love, a supportive inner circle, and her passion for filmmaking. Julie is already sexually free, lacking both cultural taboos and religious guilt.
In Juliet of the Spirits, Federico Fellini’s philosophy expresses the balance between risk and reason. The Raffaello character, positioned as the Greek philosophical voice of reason, criticizes Juliet: “Such naivete is offensive to reason.” However, she listens to the Spanish torreador character (possibly imagined), who speaks romantically of balance: risk and reason, a pure heart and a clear mind, and calculated spontaneity.
Federico Fellini ponders this balance as a filmmaker, just as Julie in The Souvenir Part II floats between her art and her life. The intelligence of both filmmakers – Federico Fellini and Joanna Hogg – leads to the visual chaos of memories, dreams, and fantasies processed subconsciously. But I don’t want to categorize them both as “Surrealists,” which might undermine their modernity. There is a fluid link between the two films, as if Juliet – in the 60s – paved the way for a modern British young woman – in the 80s – to process self-transformation after a few waves of feminism.
The casting is interesting… What’s not to love about filmmaking by women?
The casting is interesting. Tilda Swinton (such an well-known and accomplished actress) plays a supporting role to Honor Swinton Byrne – The Souvenir’s Julie – who is Tilda’s own daughter. A major star is supporting her actress daughter. A relative newcomer is spreading her wings under the direction of a woman filmmaker (serving, in this case, as both director and screenwriter). What’s not to love about filmmaking by women?
And, by the way, this film is absolutely not just for women. I took my son – a film student at the time – to Manhattan’s trendy Roxy Cinema. He is a big A24 fan, and we are always collaborating and discussing films. Like all great art, The Souvenir Part II is creatively courageous and vulnerable. Autobiographical content is difficult and yet rewarding. May I suggest that the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody watch it again on Netflix?
© Amanda Wall (11/30/23) Special for FF2 Media
And now, a few final words from FF2’s Editor-in-Chief:
My first reaction to Amanda’s pitch was unbridled laughter. As my review of Archipelago (below) makes clear, I am a big fan of Joanna Hogg’s films. Nevertheless, when I saw The Souvenir way back in 2019, I absolutely hated it! I vividly remember that day. Three of us were there at the Angelika Film Center in Manhattan representing FF2 Media, and we ALL hated it! It fell to Anika to write the review afterwards. She gave it a 2.5/5 (which, I assure you, is a very low score from our generally generous team). But, having read Amanda’s thoughtful review, I will definitely watch The Souvenir Part II this weekend!
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Visit Joanna Hogg’s IMDb page.
Find streaming options for The Souvenir (2019) here.
Click here to read The Atlantic magazine’s interview with filmmaker Joanna Hogg.
Click here to read Jan Lisa Huttner’s glowing review of Joanna Hogg’s film Archipelago here.
Click here to read Anika Guttormson’s despairing review of The Souvenir here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Tilda Swinton in the film THE SOUVENIR PART II (2021), directed by Joanna Hogg. Photo Credit: BBC FILMS / Album / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2J8697D
Middle Photo: Tilda Swinton with her daughter Honor Swinton Byrne in the film THE SOUVENIR PART II (2021), directed by Joanna Hogg. Photo Credit: BBC FILMS / Album / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2J8697T
Amanda Wall is a Brooklyn-based painter. She graduated from the University of Tulsa (OK) with a Bachelors of Fine Arts (Painting and Communication Design), and received a Masters of Fine Arts (Painting and Drawing) from Pratt Institute in 2020. Click here for CV and samples of her work on her website