Movie review: ‘The Souvenir: Part II’ continues a filmmaker’s journey

Sequels on screen can be tricky.

A movie maker may get the chance to make a follow-up film after an initial entry is well received. But, too often, the second installment fails to match the original because, on screen, lightning rarely strikes twice. Magic can be challenging to duplicate or success can cloud the creative mind. Still, because this is a business, sequels are as much a movie mainstay as butter on popcorn.

Released in 2019, “The Souvenir” explores how a young filmmaker named Julie handles the stress of work, the expectations of parents and the disappointments of a challenging relationship with a man who fails to be truthful. Without letting the story get too sticky, filmmaker Joanna Hogg creates a sensitive look at how the movie mind can process personal events. While the second installment – simply titled “The Souvenir: Part II” picks up immediately after the first film ends, this movie takes a more serious path through the emotional complexities that grief can prompt.

As the sequel begins, Julie finds herself in the warmth of her parents’ home working through her reactions to the sudden death of the man she loves. Her mother, a caring if occasionally over-bearing soul, wants to participate in every step of her daughter’s process while the father, content in his lifestyle, remains politely disconnected. Julie’s pursuit of truth drives her creative ambitions as she brings her emotional journey to a film she completed for the cinema program she neglected for her man. The film explores how she learns, personally and professionally, that what appears on screen can become less important to the filmmaker than what is felt when the camera stops.

Of course, being a film about the creative process, Julie faces challenges and setbacks, as others question her vision, commitment and ability. How she handles professional criticism, while working through her personal grief, enables the film to maneuver through several emotional layers at once.

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Film Summary: The Souvenir: Part II

Content: High. A filmmaker's story of persistence, daring and devotion comes to life in this meaningful look at what it takes to process grief.
Entertainment: High. As serious as the relationships in the film, the crisp performances from an inspired cast celebrate the humanity of the characters.
Message: High. No matter how personal this woman's situation may appear, the lessons of her choices will be meaningful to anyone.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to examine what it means to grieve, and how those we love can support and frustrate, makes a visit to the movies worthwhile.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older teenagers, talk about how we can process grief.

This isn’t simply a movie about a director who wants to make a film. This is a carefully considered tale of how people process tragedy in ways that others may ultimately absorb. While director Hogg reminds us what happens in the first film, the second delivers such a complete experience that familiarity with the original is not a requirement. The filmmaker makes Julie such an interesting and accessible character that her reactions give the film its narrative thread. And, because so much of the story comes from how Julie sees the world, looking through the character’s eyes tells an authentic and memorable story.

Of course, the performances help. Honor Swinton-Byrne captures each nuance of Julie, making us believe every moment, while expanding the emotional range she displays in the first film. To play Julie’s mother, Hogg casts Swinton-Byrne’s actual mother, Oscar winner Tilda Swinton, who is magical as the matriarch who wants to do more than situations welcome. Together, the women make us believe in the many dimensions such a relationship traverses, reminding us that those we love most can, at times, be the most challenging to embrace.

Yes, sequels can be tricky. Hogg reminds us that, when there is more story to share, a sequel can be extraordinary.

“The Souvenir: Part II” is rated R for “strong sexuality and language.” The film runs 1 hour, 47 minutes, and is showing in theaters.