In ‘The Souvenir Part II’, a human epic concludes

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NEW YORK – Joanna Hogg first had the instinct to make a film about her then unfolding relationship with her heroin-addicted first love – a traumatic and formative time that coincided with her age as a filmmaker – in 1979. .

At the time, she did not feel able to approach something so ambitious and personal. Her career has been transformed, instead, into television. It wasn’t until Hogg’s 47 that she decided to return to the movies. After doing three well-received features, Hogg felt she was finally done.

The result – “The Souvenir”, which Hogg made in two parts, filmed two years apart – is a stunner. A sublime work of remembrance and autobiography, “The Souvenir” ( the second part of that a24 makes it to theaters Friday ) captures a mastermind who uses all of her acquired skills to find her early, half-formed life as a young film director at the center of herself.

“I was amazed at the making of both films as I remember more than I thought,” Hogg said in a recent London interview. (Her zoom window reads “fellini.”) “Sometimes it’s just a matter of focusing on that particular point in time and then things come up. I did not say that before the trial because I did not believe it was possible. I thought you remembered what you remembered, that there was no way to return a memory.

“But I mean, in fact, you can channel something. Thoughts, ideas, memories, images, sounds. I think one can pull them back.”

As a filmmaker, Hogg is a seemingly incongruous mix of free-flowing and formalistic. Their camera movements are precise, their cuts rigorous. She dresses her sets carefully – remodeling her London apartment in Knightsbridge, using her old clothes to wear her fictional stand-in, played by Honor Swinton Byrne, with whom Hogg shared her old magazines. However, she does not call for dialogue. Hogg, 61, uses a 30-page document as a starting point, and shapes scenes through rehearsals and wide range.

In the first part of “The Souvenir” we see Julie set up by her film professors to create the structures, and later, in the second part, to deal with crew members who want a more concrete process. But these challenges are just part of Julie’s struggle to raise her voice and uplift life and art. That the two films exist as they do is a kind of living proof that Hogg’s path, now firmly captured, brings something real and alive. We watch as Julie finds her courage as a filmmaker; Hogg’s goes without saying.

Tilda Swinton, who co-stars in both films as Julie’s mother (Swinton Byrne is Swinton’s real-life daughter), is Hogg’s longtime friend. She even starred in Hogg’s film school final project. She reminds Hogg four decades ago to take detailed notes and photograph the views from her windows – preparation for a future, theoretical film. Swinton describes “The Souvenir” as “a beacon in a new kind of poetic cinema.”

“When I think of these films, I am reminded of the sense in which the cinema project is that of a defiance of the times,” Swinton wrote in an email.

“It takes an enormous heart and nerve to be as honest as she is about people – and to give her colleagues the support to be as open as their films need us all,” Swinton continues. “It is a high road and, like all the worst, both impassable and solid earth.”

Both parts of “The Souvenir” have won widespread acclaim, from the Sundance Film Festival to this year Cannes and New York Fester. Some of his most ardent fans are filmmakers. Martin Scorsese is an executive producer.

“I think ‘The Souvenir Parts I & II’ is an epic, on a completely human scale,” Scorsese said in an email.

While Scorsese recalls the race to make his first film before he was 25 (how old Orson Welles was when he made “Citizen Kane”), he recognizes a different trajectory in Hogg.

“Joanna started at a different moment and took her own path, and she started in a very different spirit,” Scorsese says. “It is reflected in the work, I think. There is a kind of clarity there, an intensity of focus that you do not find with a younger one – intensity yes, but of a different kind. But also, of course, it is d ‘Joanna herself.

In conjuring up her own entry into filmmaking, Hogg also led Swinton Byrne in her first steps in film. Despite growing up on film sets, “The Souvenir” marks its 24-year-old debut. Hogg, dissatisfied with anyone who auditioned her, cast her just two weeks before the start of the first part, when Swinton Byrne was 19. Julie’s evolution is also Swinton Byrne’s.

“So much has happened in the two years between Part 1 and Part Two. I went to Namibia for 10 months. I like to think I grew up a lot during that time,” said Swinton Byrne of Zoom from Edinburgh, Scotland, where she studied psychology. “So I think I went into the second with a lot more of a back.”

“I changed myself,” she adds before laughing. “There wasn’t much acting going on.”

For Swinton Byrne, the second part of “The Souvenir” is particularly empowering. After completing her studies, she expects to continue acting.

“Hollywood illustrates this ideal expectation of what you’re experiencing in your 20s and 30s, so that’s why I’m really excited about both films,” says Swinton Byrne. “These two films, as a whole, shed light on making mistakes, and how this is perfectly normal and completely healthy, and the more mistakes you make, the more you learn.”

With fiction and life merging so much, Hogg has at times, himself, been uncertain about what is real and what is not.

“The whole thing is very confusing, not in an uninteresting way, and very difficult to unpack,” Hogg says, smiling. “Sometimes when I see a picture from the movie now, there’s a moment of confusion in my head, whether it’s a still from the movie or a still from my own life.”

After spending so much of her career pushing against the normal method of filmmaking, Hogg – whose voice as a director is crystal clear – is drawn to trying her hand at more prescribed genres. Film noir, where not everyone’s past is through, is particularly attractive right now.

“I’m now interested in playing with familiar forms and my parameters,” she says.

Last year, Hogg shot “The Eternal Daughter”, a Wales-set mystery about long-buried secrets, with Swinton. “I’ve been their playmate for 50 years and now we feel like we’re finally starting our work,” Swinton says.

As much as “The Souvenir” had long been obsessed with recapture, Hogg already feels that the movies are moving away from her. Even the movies are now a memory, and hard to keep.

“Part II is getting harder and harder to talk about because it has been withdrawn,” Hogg says. “They float in the ether.”

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