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Souvenir, The: Part II
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Take Two"
5 stars

Most film sequels are made for one simple reason—the original film made a lot of money—and the resulting films tend to stick with rehashing elements that are already familiar so as not to potentially alienate returning moviegoers who are hoping for more of the same. “The Souvenir Part II,” on the other hand, is a real rarity—a continuation that exists because its creator, writer-director Joanna Hogg, genuinely had more story to tell and intriguing new ways of telling it. I thought the 2019 original was one of that year’s best films but not only does this follow-up add to and enhance our knowledge of its predecessor, an argument could be made that it is actually the superior film.

You will recall that the first film centered on Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a young British woman struggling to find her artistic voice while attending film school in the 1980s—although she personally comes from a posh family, she feels a need to tell the stories of the working class as a show of solidarity even though it may not necessarily be the best fit for her. Her artistic concerns and ambitions are soon pushed somewhat to the side when she begins a romance with Anthony (Tom Burke), a slightly older man with undeniable charm and an air of mystery about him that she finds intriguing, even when he is smugly dismissing her proposed film projects. As it turns out, Anthony also has a major drug habit that Julie tries to make excuses for to her family and friends, even as his behavior becomes increasingly intolerable. At the end of the film, the relationship finally goes completely off the rails and Anthony subsequently dies of a heroin overdose.

“Part II” picks up soon after the events of the first film with Julie (Byrne) spending some time with her well-meaning parents (James Spencer Ashworth and Tilda Swinton, Byrne’s real-life mother) before heading back to school. However she may try and however supportive her friends may be, she is still consumed by her doomed romance with Anthony and goes about meeting up with his devastated parents and revisiting their old haunts in an effort to bring about some kind of closure to that chapter of her life. Eventually, she decides that the only way to do this is to process her emotions artistically by using the relationship as the basis for the script of her thesis film. When it is rejected by her school advisory committee (all-male, naturally) for being too abstract and lacking the “realism” of her previous work, she ends up making it on her own with a loan from her parents, casting a fellow directing student (Ariane Labed) as herself and local actor Pete (Harris Dickinson) as Anthony.

There have been many films over the years chronicling the difficulties of the artistic process but I cannot recall very many that hit with the impact that “The Souvenir Part II” does. If the first film showed us how Julie found herself growing as a person in the face of extraordinary developments, this one shows us how she uses that growth to evolve and develop a specific and unique artistic voice. Whereas Julie was once timid enough to allow members of her technical crew to run roughshod over her wishes and do their own thing, she now stands up for herself in ways that were previously unimaginable. As she goes through the process of transforming her experiences into genuinely felt art, she undergoes a quiet but definitive catharsis that is beautifully expressed in Byrne’s luminous performance.

Of course, for some viewers, especially those who have not seen “The Souvenir,” there is the possibility that “The Souvenir Part II” may sound like little more than an exercise in artistic self-indulgence but that could not be further from the case. This is a film that offers up smart and thoughtful observations about human nature and the stories that we tell ourselves—not to mention the ones we tell others about ourselves—as well as a nuanced and sometimes quite witty take on the nature of the artistic process that grapples with the inherent abstractions without going overboard into incoherence. It is touching, intelligent, funny and formally inventive (never more so than in the extended final sequence in which we get to see Julie’s film, “The Souvenir,” in full) throughout and ends on a final note that is absolutely perfect. This is easily one of the best films of the year.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=34892&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/05/21 13:30:20
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  29-Oct-2021 (R)

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