It’s rare to see a “Part II” on an arthouse flick title, but here we are. “The Souvenir Part II,” starring the mother and daughter duo of Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton Byrne, and now playing in theatres, picks up where 2019’s “The Souvenir’s” coming of age story left off.
In that movie, film student Julie (Byrne) falls into a life-changing relationship with an older, arrogant man named Anthony. His death from a heroin overdose sends her reeling.
The new film sees Julie attempt to process Anthony’s death by making a graduation movie as a “memorial” for her late partner. As the project moves forward, it’s apparent Julie, who didn’t know Anthony was a heroin addict, is struggling to make sense of his loss. From the beginning her idea is met with bewilderment by her professors who don’t like the script and her producing partner (Jaygann Ayeh) who grows frustrated with her choice in actors.
“The Souvenir Part II” is a quiet, meticulous film about how artists mine personal experience to create art, to find a voice. Swinton Byrne’s Julie develop into a filmmaker, an artist and person who creates her own path. It is a lovely, delicate-but-steely, natural performance that digs deep into Julie’s maturity, personal and professional. It’s a pleasure to see Swinton and Swinton Byrne interact as mother and daughter in the film. There’s an authenticity to those scenes that feels like a warm hug.
“The Souvenir Part II” is based, in part, on director Joanna Hogg’s experience, and drips with complex ideas and emotions. As Julie heals herself, the film hauntingly has one eye on her past while the other looks to her future.
The filmmaking is more about mood than straightforward storytelling. It’s as if Hogg had a question from Julie’s film school classmate Patrick (Richard Ayoade) ringing in her head as she made the film. “Did you avoid the temptation to be obvious?” he asks. She did, and the movie is better and more challenging for it.