Sunday, September 26, 2021

A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Woman

The Souvenir: Part 2 (2021) - Joanna Hogg Souvenir pt 2 At the end of The Souvenir, our protagonist Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a film student, was grappling with the death of her charistmatic, destructive and predatory boyfriend Anthony (Tom Burke) and her next chapter in life just beginning. In The Souvenir: Part 2, we pick up right where we left off. The second part of this autobiographical story by director Joanna Hogg, has an air of built in familiarity, like a warm stove in a cold night. Here the mood is uplifted, more celebratory. And it has lots of humor as well which was lacking in the first film. All the peripheral characters in the first one gets more screen time also. And its metatextual movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie gives more depths and reflects on how we remember/misremember the past with blesmishes and all. Like her other films, Part 2 reflects on the life lessons, and the fact that only way to learn them is to live through it. It's a beautifully realized and impeccably acted film. Oh, it also has the best soundtrack of the season.

With Anthony's shadow still largely looming in Julie's life, she is still grieving and suffering greatly with the guilty conscience that she could've somehow saved him. Deep down she knows she couldn't have, but she very much wants someone else to tell her it wasn't her fault.

In order to graduate from school, with her circle of mates, she decides to embark on making a film about her experience with Anthony. When she presents her script to get the funding from school, the faculty committee is less than impressed with her presentation: first of all, her script is held together with red ribbons and doesn't even have scene headings. She also decided to use her fellow student Garance (Adriane Labed), instead of a professional actor to play the lead. Even though it's based on her life experience - which is a dramatic concession because she originally wanted to make a movie about working class people in Sunderland, the commitee feels it's out of her character and doesn't seem there's enough connections between main characters. The irony is, it was the same committee who wanted to stir her away from making a film on the subject that she doesn't know much about. So essentially, Julie is (re)making The Souvenir as her graduate film. With school funding for her movie in jeopardy, Julie asks her supportive mom (Tilda Swinton, Byrne's real-life mother) again for the fiancial help.

It's not only school committee's approval that Julie has to deal with, after a grueling pre-production process in choosing actors - too good looking, need more authenticity, etc, she runs into squables and has to deal with clash of egos everywhere she turns and its mostly due to her inexperience and incompetence. Just like every young filmmakers, she doesn't know what she is doing most of the time!

Hogg, a veteran TV director with decades of experiences, who started her feature film career in 2007, has no qualms about showing her young self's incongruity, and bullshit personas of twenty something always project on themselves. The hubris of youth is universal and there is no need to be apologetic or embarrassed about.

Swinton Byrne is great as a naive young woman collecting all the souvenir in her life in shaping herself as an artist. Tilda Swinton gracefully recedes and disappears into her greying mom role perfectly, playing a woman of privilege tickled by her artistic daughter's endeavor, taking up pottery classes to a varying success. Richard Aoyade steals the show as Patrick, a pompous older student whose career is just taking off. We needed to see more of him in the first film and now we are richly rewarded here. Patrick is first seen directing a huge musical film production on stage. His ego-maniacal behavior on and off the set, shouting at onlookers and reporters, defending his decision to do a musical by pointing his finger at the gloomy London sky. As a gifted comedian, Aoyade's delivery is pitch perfect as Patrick, an extremely arrogant, yet superbly talented individual who lacks social niceties. Hence it is he who can blurt out the painful truth as he sees it for Julie to move on after her 'memorial for Anthony' is done.

A long, fantastical sequence of Julie's thesis film hilariously highlights how an artist sees her creations and how she remembers her experiences versus reality of what happened. The Fellini-esque sequence and out of body experience portrayed in Julie's film has nothing in common with how we perceived her relationship with Anthony in somber The Souvenir, at least in its visual presentation. But it strikes the cord on an emotional level- his death and her heart being shattered to millions of pieces remain true.

All the people we encounter, those little memorable moments we pick up throughout life shape us who we are. The Souvenir: Part 2 is a celebration of that achievement. It's a marvelously inventive, self-effacing film that is also immensely affecting and moving. Definitely one of the year's best.

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