Two songs frame the development of film student Julie in “The Souvenir: Part II”: Nico’s dark elegy “Sixty/Forty” and the life-embracing Eurythmics hit “There Must be an Angel”. Seriously wounded, the young woman returns to her posh family home in the country at the beginning of the film. “Will there be another time/another wish to stay?” Nico asks into an uncertain future in her gravely, heroin-tinged voice. Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton’s daughter) is in shock.
At the end of “The Souvenir” (2019) was the drug death of her partner Anthony, a junkie who tried to hide the addiction behind the appearance of political office. Part II picks up the narrative threads seamlessly, but soon evolves into a very different film altogether.
With her two-part review of her own student days in London in the early 1980s, the British auteur filmmaker Joanna Hogg reached a wider public for the first time. The current interest in autofictional narrative forms may certainly have played a role in this. With pale, almost powdery colors that dab the reality of events far in the past, Hogg finds his own language for the memory narrative. “The Souvenir” and “The Souvenir: Part II” miraculously combine precision and ambiguity.
Several films are stuck in this fabric composed of different elements: the portrait of a young woman in search of an artistic voice, a contemporary image of the Thatcher era, a drama about co-dependence and mourning, a reflection on social privileges, a film about filmmaking.
Social drama or rather a musical?
In the film school, Julie didn’t show up much in the first part. Her own ambitions slipped away more and more in the maelstrom of a toxic relationship. In the second part she is back, searching and yet unusually determined. As she tries to come to terms with Anthony’s death, meets people who were close to him and questions her own role in therapy sessions, she resumes artistic work. But where she left off, she can’t continue.
What art and cinema should really be about: This is a topic that is discussed time and again, sometimes controversially, in “The Souvenir: Part II”. Should you leave your privileged surroundings and, as Julie initially intends to do, turn to the precarious living conditions in an industrial town in northern England? Or isn’t it perhaps more compelling to throw a musical at the depressing drizzle that seems to be seen in every British film of the Thatcher era, i.e. too much form, colour, music and movement? Does documentary realism bring you closer to reality or the visualization of inner experiences?
On one occasion, Julie sits across from her film professors to pitch them the idea for her graduation film. The men leaf through their screenplay helplessly. The script is unprofessional and unclear, doesn’t even have a proper title. Frustrated, they ask themselves where the world has gone, which the student initially declared her most urgent task to depict. This same Julie now says: “I don’t want to show life as it plays out in real time. I want to show life as I imagined it.” That’s what cinema is about.
(In the cinema fsk)
Even if the school refuses to produce Julie’s project, it can still be realized with the financial support of the parents. A fellow student (Ariane Labed), who casts her as an alter ego in the film, once said behind her back that she was too naive, too sensitive – and also too lazy. Hogg’s films, which are situated in the director’s milieu of origin – the British upper class – always subtly revolve around class privileges.
The film proper, a clever rewrite of Hogg’s actual graduation film Caprice (starring a then-unknown “Matilda” Swinton, who in turn plays Julie’s mother), eventually unfolds as a surreal maze of memories and fantasies. The Souvenir: Part II is an intriguing blend of auto-fiction and meta-fiction. Hogg shows that memories are always thought of as cinematic. The question of the relationship between reality and imagination is condensed into a simple equation: Art is Life.