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The Souvenir Part II, 2022
The Souvenir Part II, 2022(Film still)

Joanna Hogg on Her Deeply Personal Follow-up Film, The Souvenir Part II

As The Souvenir Part II is released, Joanna Hogg talks about reliving her twenties, expressing grief through colour, and why this movie is a “continuation, not a sequel” to Part I

Lead ImageThe Souvenir Part II, 2022(Film still)

If I ever wondered what exactly made the character of Julie feel real in The Souvenir – despite her situation of privilege, and her relationship with an addict, being far away from anything I have experienced – what director Joanna Hogg does with her sequel gives that feeling of intimacy a new clarity. With Part II’s depiction of a world where life is a metatheatrical movie set, I realised something: if we like Julie, it’s because she moves through a world where it’s always all the other people who seem to know their lines.

Those numerals do make The Souvenir: Part II a sequel in essence, though Hogg says that word doesn’t quite fit the continuous journey of these projects: they are, for her, two parts of a whole. They are the before, and the after, of one of the most significant events in her own life – not precisely recreated, but reconjured. “My experience of the film is at its most intense when I’m making it,” she says when we speak on the afternoon of the film’s UK premiere. “Your whole body goes into this space of these ideas, and these patterns. Now I have to try and put myself in the audience’s shoes at this point when it’s emerging, because it’s obviously not new to me. And my feelings about it have receded.” She sounds almost apologetic about this feeling of distance when it comes to the time of her films’ press cycles. And yet, though she makes these films so many decades after the real events have happened, she has given us the gift of what must be one of the richest, and richly personal, screen experiences of the year.

The single event that conjoins Parts I and II is the death of Julie’s boyfriend Anthony by drug overdose; we rejoin the film student, played by Honor Swinton Byrne, in the immediate aftermath. Based on Hogg’s real experiences during her twenties, it’s a grief replayed out through the film we watch, but also one we watch the character work through via the creation of her final graduation film. Fiction starts to slide over and under the facts of Julie’s life, and we witness her painful process of becoming, both as a young woman, and a filmmaker. We also watch her grow from someone who things happen to, to someone who makes things happen.

Julie’s foil in The Souvenir: Part II is director Julian, played by Richard Ayoade, who became a cult hero in Part I with his damning assessment of the couple (“trainee rotarian, habitual heroin user”). His diva-ish on-set behaviour is a taste of a way that Julie could herself go – an unwillingness to make any concessions for the people around you, is, after all, one way for creative people to be taken seriously. What’s clear by the end is that Julie will learn how to pursue her vision in her own way – as did Hogg. Today, the director seems pleasantly bewildered by how something so personal could become something that means so much to many others, once it is out in the world. With The Souvenir: Part II, she has made a film that reminds us: it’s your life – you’re the director. No one is going to tell you how to do it.

Claire Marie Healy: Unusually for a movie in this sphere, Part II is being seen as a sequel. But you have described it as a continuation. 

Joanna Hogg: My initial idea was to tell one story, but in two pieces. I see it as a whole. And then there’s the split in the middle. The films are reactions to each other. Practically, you need quite a lot of money to make one film. I wanted to protect that second part, but I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to make it, and then for me it would have been an incomplete work. But I’m so glad I wasn’t able to get the money together to shoot them both back-to-back, because it just would have been too much. There’s so many new directions I took in Part II because of having that space in the middle to think about it again. It was a wonderful thing for Honor to go off and have other experiences, and then for all of us to come back and reunite.

CMH: Had there only been a Part I, it would feel like we’d be abandoning Julie somehow.

JH: Leaving her in limbo! And she’s a filmmaker, so I wanted to know how she was going to respond to this thing that happened to her: where she was going to take that, and where her life was going to go. So we leave Part I with that sort of open door of the future. 

CMH: As well as going right back to that brutal moment, the film immediately begins to experiment with its own form, in terms of how Julie is lensed by you. We are both right in that moment, and somewhere else entirely. There are lots of the kinds of ideas you have as a film student, and you’re wearing your references on your sleeves a little more. Was going back to that time a freeing one for you as a filmmaker?

JH: Exactly that. I made the decision that all the influences would all be ones that I had when I was first making films. Our approach, not just with the film within the film [Julie’s graduate film], but the whole thing, had more of a feeling that we were doing something that we hadn’t done before. It was an adventure. And rather like a student, I suppose it felt like you could make mistakes. It was both exciting, and challenging, because it felt like every day we were working on someone else’s film. There are so many different styles within Part II that I had since shut up. Something very tactile, very 1980s – it was like conjuring up the space and textures of that time again. It felt like magic, and very seductive. Although I had many difficulties in my twenties, it was also an incredibly creative time.

CMH: As well as these environments of the stages and sets of the film school, you are also asking viewers to refamiliarise themselves with Julie’s own spaces, like the hotel restaurant, or her flat. For me, returning to the flat, where all these beautiful but also awful moments with Anthony happened, was strange. It felt like when you do lose someone, or something particularly difficult happens to you, and how when you go into those same spaces you shared with them they just feel different.

JH: It was also strange for us when we were filming, to go back to her flat because we felt, as a cast and crew, the history of it. And we’re mourning it, and mourning Anthony not being there anymore. It’s funny how those emotions come up. But that’s also a product of recreating that space, which, for me, was a very powerful conjuring up, a very powerful space to be in, because it was so reminiscent of somewhere that I knew, and was so faithfully recreated. Not because we were able to match it, as we were never able to revisit the original place, or measure it up. But it had a lot of power to it. 

CMH: In Part I, Julie’s story was also always told through her clothing. What are the clothes doing, or saying, in Part II

JH: We were interested in a journey of the stages of grief, and somehow expressing those stages of grief through colour. She’s very much in a dark blue space at the beginning of Part II, which also connects with the Japanese designers that I was really interested in at that time, like Yohji Yamamoto. She moves through a stage of also connecting with Anthony – so his pinstripe suit becomes the pinstripes that she wears. And then she wears silk pajamas. We were often talking about positive and negative, so dark sets of pajamas, and then pearly whites. We were all the time thinking about the emotions created from these colours, and these opposites. I also see her as very much grappling with an eating disorder, which I don’t underline too clearly, but there is a covering up of her body and feeling a sort of a shame about her body at first.

CMH: Are there any items of clothing that were yours in this film?

JH: I wish I’d kept some of those clothes! But we tried to reimagine them. The scarf of Julie’s that Anthony wears is actually mine, from Vivienne Westwood’s Pirate collection from World’s End in the early 80s. It’s maybe in tatters now, after going from being in Part I, and deteriorating a bit in Part II, where it gets worn by the actor playing Anthony in the graduate film. So there are certain items of clothing that go through the story, as worn by different people. It makes me think of Max Ophüls’s The Earrings of Madame de – this idea of clothes taking on characteristics. It’s really great. In fact, it wasn’t just clothes that I brought to the set, but also objects and furniture. I think the bringing in of these objects that have meaning already, adds something else, even if it’s not immediately apparent to people watching the film. There’s a richness that gets added to the melting pot of ideas. It’s something that my production designer Stéphane Collonge and costume designer Grace Snell really embrace – this bringing in of different energies.

CMH: In Part I, I always thought of Honor as almost a silent film star, the way the camera rested on her face and its emotions in close-up. But this time it’s almost like she’s taking control, not just receiving. 

JH: She’s a detective – I really see it as a detective story. She’s wanting to find out who this person was that she spent that time with. Because he’s such a mystery to her. I suppose there’s something about Part I telling the story, so I was wanting a simplicity to how the camera does that, in a classic way. And then Part II is almost a documentary of the making of Part I. And on some levels it actually is, because I was observing myself, Honor was observing herself and myself making the last film, and then all those observations went into this one. So for example, when Julie’s making her film, based on her story with Anthony, it felt very much like making a documentary in a way and it felt like Julie was – Honor was – that director working with a real crew. That crew that she’s surrounded by are actually some of our crew members! So it felt very real. In that way it’s not constructed, but then there are also some very stylised elements in Part II. My graduate film was influenced by Hollywood musicals – Lady in the Dark, Cover Girl, All That Jazz, New York, New York – so it was flooded with all these different influences. So what the camera does here has a connection with what the camera did when I made that, back in 1986.

CMH: The 80s soundtrack is again, incredible, and does so much to bring us back to the feel of that era. What would be your choice of song at karaoke?

JH: Gosh. Well I’ve tried I Will Survive! Which is such a hard one to sing, so maybe I would choose that, because I tend to choose challenging things to do.

The Souvenir: Part II is out in the UK on 4 February 2022.