Thursday, November 4, 2021

Joanna Hogg's "The Souvenir Part II" at AMC 10 & Landmark Theatres: Nov 12 - Dec 9

Opening the third week of November at regional AMC Theaters, and later at Landmark's The Crest Cinema, Joanna Hogg's second entry in a set of tales surrounding Julie, a film school student in 1980s London, follows the young protagonist (superbly played by Honor Swinton-Byrne) working out her voice as an adult and a director. A rare opportunity in being given the greenlight for a two-part drama, Hogg has been developing the project since initially conceiving the semi-autobiographical tale in the late 1980s, which she details for the New York Times, “A Filmmaking Life Gets a Sequel”. Until recently, her films have been a relative arthouse secret, "Joanna Hogg, where have you been all my life?" wrote Manohla Dargis in response to her first three features comprising "Unrelated", "Archipelago", and "Exhibition" being released domestically in 2014. Yet, it was only with the first part of "The Souvenir", that a wider audience experienced this same revelation. This "absolute joy to watch" as described by A.O. Scott was the first encounter with Hogg's rich vein of storytelling for many viewers. On its release, Monica Castillo cited "The Souvenir"'s depiction of a troubled romance and it's divisive qualities for Roger, particularly among contemporary audiences unwilling, or unable to parse such contradictions. "From its Sundance premiere, I heard grumblings about its main character, Julie, and the frustrations some felt with her decision to stay in a clearly toxic relationship. For me, “The Souvenir” is perhaps the most empathetic movie to capture that kind of bad romance, the way it seeps into every aspect of your life, the way it changes your behavior, how you hold onto the memories of good times when things get rough and how after it ends, you're a changed person. “The Souvenir” doubles as a reference to the unseen but still painful bruises you can get with a relationship as rocky as theirs. Some days, I miss those rose-colored glasses, but I have the bruises to remind me why I took them off in the first place."

Fathomed in her interview with Film Comment, through Hogg's sympathetic eye for shots, pacing and structure, the film delivers a mature and nonjudgmental observation on the joys and heartbreaking pain of these contradictions. Resembling in some ways the cinema of the French auteurs Eric Rohmer and Claire Denis, themselves of differing generations and sensibilities, this newly-ardently admired oeuvre truly came into being with complex tableau of, "Joanna Hogg Revisiting Her Past Selves". More than just, "A Great Movie About a Bad Boyfriend", as the title of A.O. Scott's review of the first entry implies, Julie and Anthony's shared intellectual passion, artistic questing, aspirations and humiliations initially are found to pivot around his undisclosed and secretive life troubles. Punctuated by the arrival of postcards as stopgaps, implying the passage of time and shifting relations between its protagonists, the structure of "The Souvenir" is largely linear, with brief poetic digressions voicing moments of inner reflection. Over time we witness Julie begin to break loose from the constraints of these influences, as her denial gives way to necessary recognition and an, "Opening Up the Privileged World From Which She Emerged". Through loss and pain, coming to recognize herself outside of these external conditions, we see a decisively different course for her own art and pursuit of identity. The cumulative effect of this great film of small moments, is Joanna Hogg's "'The Souvenir' is a Masterly Coming-of-Age Portrait", that invests great belief in its audience and the unguarded candor of experience lived. With "The Souvenir Part II" the director picks up where Julie's struggling with her life and the form of her art left off, this is instead in many ways, “Life As She Imagines It”. In this "Near-Perfect Sequel About Loss and Art", we revisit the young filmmaker in a form which Peter Bradshaw finds less detached, more emotionally engaging in its immediacy, as we are enticed into Julie’s world for a second time, “The Souvenir Part II:  A Flood of Austere Sunlight in Joanna Hogg’s Superb Sequel”.