In the depths of “The Souvenir Part II”, a young woman crosses a room of mirrors as in a dream. It’s a busy time for the character, a film student whose lover died not too long ago. After struggling with her grief and her art, she seems on the verge of a creative breakthrough: she made her graduation film and her mom, dad and friends are there to see it. As she walks among her mirrored reflections, she also seems to walk past her many different personalities – the devoted girl, the adrift college student, the destitute survivor – all now in service of her role as an artist.
The latest from British director Joanna Hogg, “Souvenir Part II” is the portrait of a young artist. It is about life and art, inspiration and process, growth and becoming. And while it’s familiar in many ways, it’s not the usual bleat about art and artists either, in part because most of these stories are about men, those tortured, mad geniuses. whose work dominates culture, filling museums and biopics. This, on the other hand, is the story of a recognizable hesitant young woman who tells her disapproving male teachers that her film will be about “life as I imagine it” – then implements her declaration of intent.
“Part II” picks up more or less where Hogg’s 2019 favorite “The Souvenir” ends. Set in Britain in the early 1980s, the first film finds Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) in film school, generously supported by her parents. The focus of the story, however, and much of her energy and time is spent on her exciting and progressively strained affair with an enigmatic concealer, Anthony (Tom Burke), who charms, seduces and steals her. . Finally, he overdoses heroin in a museum bathroom where he shows her the Fragonard’s painting which gives its title to the film. “Souvenir” ends with an extract of romantic poetry and Julie leaving a sound stage during the day.
This early story has its obvious allures, most notably the overwhelming allure of tragic love, with its messy beds and broken hearts. But it is Hogg’s cinematic achievement – her narrative and stylistic choices, the precision of her framing, the stillness of her images and the way she retains information – that sets “Souvenir” apart from her other films. She has found her own way at the crossroads of art cinema and mainstream audiences, and the way she manages time and transitions is particularly striking. Most filmmakers smooth the scenes so that they fit perfectly into a whole; Hogg likes to cut songs, like he’s cutting a radio, and suddenly switch from here to there, like we do in life.