Being an artist leaves you vulnerable.
Artists may draw on uncomfortable moments from their past, such as unprocessed trauma or volatile relationships, for their art. These artistic endurances could leave artists emotionally vulnerable and susceptible to pain while reflecting what they feel. Filmmakers may find these creative experiences especially challenging, as they’re forced to collaborate with other people, not all of whom may share their vision or experiences. Director Joanna Hogg expertly explores these anxieties in The Souvenir Part II.
A sequel to 2019’s The Souvenir, Part II continues to follow Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a film student, as she works on her thesis film for her grad program. Julie is basing her film on her tumultuous relationship with Anthony from the first film. While part 2 stands strongly on its own, watching part 1 provides a lot of context for the personal stakes behind this project. The Souvenir Part II is at its most compelling when Julie is confronting challenges as a filmmaker that impact her emotionally.
Most films about filmmaking deal with dueling egos or prima donnas. Outside of a very fun Richard Ayota as the pretentious actor Patrick, most of the characters are straightforward and grounded. Julie’s challenges come from her insecurity and indecisiveness. Her second-guessing, stress, and difficulty communicating with her cast and crew cause most of the problems, and she knows it. She wants the film to reflect her emotional anxieties, but when it’s clear she’s still working through those feelings, she has a tough time articulating what she wants out of her team. There are scenes where the lead actors are confused about how Julie directs the male lead’s motivation because she is still figuring out what Anthony was to her. Honor Swinton Byrne is especially strong in these scenes, giving one of the most compelling performances I’ve ever seen of feeling overwhelmed and drowning.
The performances all around the film are great, as all the actors, such as Charlie Heaton, Harris Dickson, Joe Alwyn, and Ariane Labed, go in more of a realistic direction. Tilda Swinton gives a nuanced and intricate performance as Rosalind, Julie’s mother, as she delivers a lot of subtext in her dialogue. Every line has emotional double meanings underneath, and I caught some nuances thinking back on her performance. Still, Honor Swinton Byrne is the standout, as every moment on screen is layered with multiple conflicting emotions that are instantly relatable.
I’m not going to lie; The Souvenir Part II moved me to tears. Even outside of filmmaking, anyone working a job in their passion can relate to this film. It’s hard enough to put so much of yourself in your art, but when you’re still reconciling your feelings and relationships, you’re almost forced to confront those uncertainties with yourself through your art. It helps that this film isn’t just one long anxiety attack. The moments where Julie starts to forge new relationships or little things start to work out in her film feel like a giant exhaled breath. There are moments when you see why artists put up with all the stress and anxiety, how it can be worth it for those moments. Not only do I want people to see this movie, but I also hope they’re as touched by it as I was.
The Souvenir Part II will be released theatrically by A24 on October 29th