Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical film The Souvenir earned huge plaudits and was a critics’ favourite. Screening in Cannes in the Directors’ Fortnight section, the second part will surely have the sam eeffect and many will question why Hogg wasn’t a shoo-in for the competition.
The second part of this diptych begins with Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) mourning the death of her heroin-addicted control freak boyfriend Anthony (Tom Burke). Everything we see is blanched of colour. It is springtime, but the only flowers we see are white, and the landscapes and buildings all share a faded, pasty quality.
With Anthony literally out of the picture (although not entirely), Hogg focuses her attention on characters who were more peripheral: Julie’s parents really come into their own here and are allowed more screentime as they coddle their daughter while she grieves and coax her back into her life. That very British, very upper-middle-class manner is in full play here as the parents rarely articulate their real emotions. Swinton’s Rosalind is all jolly and upbeat, but Hogg shows her smoking tearfully and secretly in her beloved garden and when an ugly homemade pot is broken, her frustration and pain are thinly veiled.
As Julie starts to engage with the world once more, colour returns with a vengeance – it is the 1980s after all. Reds are everywhere, from a gleaming car to period blood via carpet slippers and there is a metallic glossy sheen so redolent of the period, whether it’s a model’s make-up or Julie’s harem pants. Hogg also uses colour to indicate the relationship between Julie and her mother, the two women often complementing each other’s palette in their clothes.
Richard Oyoade, who had just a couple of memorable lines in part one, is given a meatier role to play with and he is outstanding as Julie’s vain, talented and incisive friend. Hogg is clever enough not to overindulge us with his presence and we are left wanting more of his cruel acerbic honesty.
Much of the film is about Julie making her graduation film, which is about her doomed relationship with James and there is a lot about the process of filmmaking and playing with the film within the film. Perhaps Hogg takes this just a little too far, but it was a joy to see her visual dexterity and imagination at play, like an opera singer showing off her range. Every scene offers something new or different in terms of tone and texture. Smart editing by Helle le Fevre, Hogg’s long-term collaborator, inserts brief interludes that connect this film to the previous one – the glimpse of a gondola, for example – and make the two parts cohere.
Hogg describes a version of her painful and destructive youthful relationship. However, it is also joyous as we watch the young woman gradually take control of her life again. Perhaps the symbolism is a little trite with lots of flowers coming into bloom and colour seeping into the picture again – even Julie’s perfume is Penhaligon’s Bluebell! – but there is a warmth here that was lacking in the first part as Julie blossoms into a more interesting and rounded woman. The two parts of Souvenir make a fascinating and thoroughly watchable whole.