Writer and director Joanna Hogg first realized that actors simply reading her script wasn’t the way she wanted to hear her story told when she had written her 2007 movie Unrelated. “I wrote Unrelated in a conventional way, and then on day two or three of the shoot, I realized I wasn’t having much fun carrying the script around and getting the actors to say exactly what I had written on the page,” Hogg says.
“A lot of my directing has to do with listening and hearing rhythm and how people say a line, so I just didn’t like what I heard,” she continues.
The Souvenir Part II is Hogg’s fifth feature, a follow-up to 2019’s The Souvenir. Actor Tilda Swinton, who appeared in both parts, summed up Hogg’s process from her point of view in a Q&A held at Film at Lincoln Center. “What Joanna does is make authors of all of us. So you are carrying the narrative and every time you decide to speak, it’s like I’m doing now. I know roughly what I want to say but I’m having to bring the words out and encounter my own inarticulacy and that’s what people do.
“Very rarely in films that are beautifully written by great screenwriters do you actually see, particularly very good performers, do that. You see them being very articulate all the time and saying very written things. So what you get when you have these raw animal people blundering around in a set of Joanna’s is you get people really alive.
“The experience from our point of view is incredibly lively and creative. The thing that I find very interesting as an objective eye is when I first saw the cut and was amazed at how precise it was, given that it is drummed up in this mystical fashion, it’s got a lot to do with how beautifully it’s cut.
“Somehow, around take four, there’s a sort of rhythm, it’s like making music. People know enough what they’re doing but they’re still on their toes that there’s this perfect elision and that’s the take.”
This theme of music extends into the film, as Thrillist’s Esther Zuckerman discovers when she explores the references Hogg drew on for The Souvenir: Part II. Béla Bartók’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle notably makes an appearance in both movies, and musicals are a recurring motif in the films that the protagonists make in Part II.
“At that time [in my life], I was really interested in the musical form,” said Hogg. “Also in the UK, there were various directors making musicals in that Hollywood tradition. It felt like something very much from the 1980s era of the Hollywood musical and the reinvention of it. There were all these artists riffing off the Hollywood musical, including myself as a student.”
While developing ideas for the film, Hogg revisited the songs and artists that shaped her youth.
“Music was incredibly important, and often the choices would have to do with what I remembered from that time, and what music from that time conjures up particular ideas and memories,” said Hogg.
During prep, the director was also “revisiting films about films.”
“I’m not very good at taking ideas from other films. I like enjoying them and appreciating, but I don’t necessarily want to create something like another film,” Hogg said. “I’m trying to be another cinematic pioneer in a way.”
READ MORE: Soul II Soul and Fellini: Joanna Hogg’s Biggest Inspirations for ‘The Souvenir: Part II’ (Thrillist)
Hogg reveals more about her favorite musicals and stocks up on films by Federico Fellini in this short for the Criterion Collection:
Hogg expanded on her process in an interview with MovieMaker Magazine. “I’ll design a setting for a scene, and then the words come out of them because of the situation that they’re in,” Hogg said of working with actors on set. “And then we’ll develop it over a number of takes. So the first take will often be very rough and quite chaotic. Sometimes I like that, and that goes in the cut. Or it’ll get sculpted, so by take 11, everything is more streamlined.”
“Part II jumps off into new territory for me that isn’t necessarily based on how I was as a student,” Hogg explained. “There’s a lot more invention, which is maybe where the feeling of experiment comes from. I didn’t feel like I was stuck with my own life. It travels in different directions, in new directions, and that felt really exciting.
“So it had this sort of chaos. It was fun and really challenging, every day we were shooting what felt like a different film in a way.”
READ MORE: The Souvenir Part II Writer-Director Joanna Hogg Doesn’t Script Dialogue (MovieMaker Magazine)
The film was inspired by Hogg’s graduation film from film school, she told The Film Stage. “Where it differs is that my graduation film from film school didn’t speak about the relationship that I’d been through. It was personal but in a different way. It was about self-identification and accepting yourself, on some level, but it didn’t deal with the relationship.
“I knew that I wanted Julie to make this film. I knew that I wanted her to examine the relationship from Part I, and that was partly the experience of shooting Part I, making me think about that.”
Hogg always conceived of The Souvenir as a diptych, with an A and a B side, so the idea of a sequel, however unorthodox for an indie drama, was baked into the concept. Still, given the open-ended way she generates her films — without much scripted dialogue, leaving ample space for improv both on her part and by cast and crew — that didn’t mean she knew where Part II would end up.
“I initially wrote both parts at the same time, intending to shoot them together,” Hogg explains, “only it didn’t work out that way. So, then I rewrote Part II just before we shot it. It did get quite confusing, having to slip into the second before really making up my mind about what I felt about the first one. But as my films always are, it was a process of evolution.”
READ MORE: Joanna Hogg on The Souvenir Part II, Meta Filmmaking, and Creating an Atmosphere of Discovery (The Film Stage)
“I wanted desperately to make them at the same time, because I thought there was a danger that if I just made the first one, I wouldn’t get the opportunity to make the second one,” Hogg told The New York Times, adding that she was grateful for the extra time. She even believes the second part would have been “a shadow of its current self” if she had shot both movies together.
READ MORE: A Filmmaking Life Gets a Sequel (The New York Times)
The story rejoins film student Julie Harte days after the close of the first chapter. In the raw aftermath of her tragic affair with Anthony, she is in free-fall, just starting to reckon with who she might become on the other side of it. Julie re-enters the world as she knew it — school, friends, parents, lovers, her art and work — but the way she sees that world is new.
As usual for Hogg, the writing of The Souvenir never involved a conventional shooting script. Instead, there was an initial document more akin to a treatment — with little dialogue but rife with vivid descriptions, supplemented by exhaustive, often deeply personal documentation: music, art, films, books, photographs, even diaries and therapist’s notes.
As Hogg revealed to The Film at Lincoln Center podcast, this document was shared with Tom Burke, who plays Antony in The Souvenir, but not Honor Byrne Swinton, who plays Julie Harte in both films.
“He got a lot of information from me about this story. That just seemed right to me that he knew where the story was going, and Julie wouldn’t,” said Hogg. “When we made Part II, of course, Julie was on her own and I thought, ‘Well, Julie now needs to know where she’s going.’ So, she saw the story.
“Honor took it in her own direction,” she continued. “I realized that she’d been observing me during the making of part one. And so, when she’s playing Julie, directing as a film student, it was very strange. It sometimes wasn’t very flattering. She was incredibly clever in her observations.”
READ MORE: Joanna Hogg on the Meta Self-Reflexiveness of The Souvenir Part II (The Film at Lincoln Center)
“I was able to observe her and think about her as Honor but also as Julie and make decisions in terms of that journey and what would happen when,” Hogg told Slant’s Marshall Shaffer. “I really took part two on another journey away from myself in a sense. I experienced a desire in Honor. I saw Honor feeling very imprisoned in a way by the shape of Julie. She’s such an introverted person, in a way that Honor isn’t. I saw Honor really wanting to burst out of this character — or, rather, burst out of a way of being that Julie has — into something more. To expand. That idea of expanding Julie and the story came a lot from Honor, actually.”
Swinton Byrne said the character of Julie resembled her younger self. “It was actually quite organic in a strange way to go back into the introversion and the self-questioning,” she said, adding, “It really was like having an alter ego.
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“I grew up so much between the two-year gap between the two films, and it’s magic that the second one begins two days after the first one ends because there’s such a change there. In those two days, those two years for me, so much had snapped and broken and grown. That was just such a fantastic experience. It was really interesting to me to become more Honor in the second one. And I hope that did follow the natural progression of things. It just went a course, and I think it worked quite well. It was like an evolution.”
READ MORE: Interview: Joanna Hogg and Honor Swinton Byrne on The Souvenir Part II (Slant)
“Part II is almost a documentary of the making of Part I,” Hogg told AnOther Magazine’s Claire Marie Healy. “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.”
READ MORE: Joanna Hogg on Her Deeply Personal Follow-up Film, The Souvenir Part II (AnOther Magazine)
“In hindsight I’m so glad I didn’t shoot the two together, because so much changed,” Hogg reflected. “The idea that Julie was going to make her student film about Anthony was there in early drafts but not really felt-through in any complete sense. Only much later did it become something where the audience experiences not just what Julie makes, but what she dreams — and the actual dreamscape kept developing as the shoot went along.”
The Souvenir: Part II was a Main Slate selection of the 59th New York Film Festival: “Continuing her remarkable autobiographical saga, Hogg fashions a gently meta-cinematic mirror image of the first film, cutting to the quick in one surprising, enthralling idea after another.”
Tyler Aquilina at Entertainment Weekly revealsit took Hogg decades “to be able to process her affair through film; her real-life thesis project was a fantastical short starring Swinton,” and says that while The Souvenir: Part II “moves further away from reality in some ways, it also muddles the swirl of memory, fiction, and metafiction that makes up its narrative.”
Hogg harks back to her phantasmagorical first outing during an elaborate sequence in Part II, which drew inspiration from the Technicolor fantasias of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
“[My collaborators] were constantly asking me about [that sequence], because that was going to be the height of our stylization, which would seem to be something very planned and very organized,” Hogg recalled. “And I knew that I wanted to decide the details of that closer to the end of the shoot, partly because I was observing Julie’s journey and the grief she was experiencing as a character. The ideas weren’t cooked yet, until close to shooting those scenes.”
READ MORE: How The Souvenir Part II helped Joanna Hogg and Honor Swinton Byrne grow as artists and people (Entertainment Weekly)
Cinematographer David Raedeker, who shot The Souvenir Part 1, explains how Part II was continued. “We used a lot of different film formats,” he notes. “We used digital 16 millimeter and film 16 millimeter, digital and film 35, and other formats as well, including Hi8 and archive footage of Joanna’s on Super 8.
“It feels woven together, I think, but each of these different textures really add something, from the real to the hyperreal, and nothing’s arbitrary.”
Film Comment caught up with Joanna Hogg for its podcast while she was attending the 59th New York Film Festival, while Honor Swinton Byrne joined the conversation from Edinburgh via Zoom. The lively chat touches upon the film’s layered approach to autobiography, its precisely contrived naturalism, and how the film’s soundtrack draws from Hogg’s memories of youth.
READ MORE: The Film Comment Podcast: Joanna Hogg & Honor Swinton Byrne on The Souvenir Part II (Film Comment)
For Hogg, memories — hers or Julie’s — are subtly linked to shifting color palettes, according to Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson.
“In the film’s earliest scenes, as Julie’s parents try desperately to buoy their daughter following Anthony’s death, the family is shown all sitting at a dinner table spread with white linens, wearing white clothing, in a very brightly lit dining room. Even the food (white fish, white potatoes) matches. In Julie’s memory, her parents are working hard to keep things light in the face of her monstrous devastation.
“Not long after, an image of a little bright red blood accidentally smeared onto bedsheets gives way, in the next scene, to a flashy red car on a movie set. There’s a woman in the car, wearing a red dress, dabbing red lipstick onto her lips with her fingers, her nails painted a fiery shade to match. A few scenes later, Julie has handed out copies of her screenplay to the film program advisers, tied with bits of red ribbon.
“Did all of these things look this way when they really happened? Only Joanna Hogg knows — or maybe she doesn’t. Maybe the memories have flashed back to her with this coloration because they’re imbued with a different emotion, even one that is hard to express. The Souvenir: Part II is in some ways a valentine to Hogg’s younger self, who was fumbling through her own messy emotions by making art.”
READ MORE: One of this year’s best movies is about its own making (Vox)
Director Joanna Hogg discusses The Souvenir Part II at NYFF59, with NYFF Director of Programming Dennis Lim:
AV Club’s Vadim Rizov feels the film portrays a life transformed by the collective nature of filmmaking: “Just as Julie radically adjusts her artistic goals, The Souvenir: Part II changes its shape as necessary to suit each moment of her growth.
“She grows along multiple axes, her healing process linked to her increasing technical competence and acumen. By film’s end, she’s directing music videos for a living. This is not an unambiguously positive arc: Hogg made videos and TV for years after graduating in 1986, before finally directing her first feature, Unrelated, in 2007.”
READ MORE: The Souvenir: Part II is the rare sequel to improve on its terrific predecessor (AV Club)
BFI National Archive curator Will Massa and film critic Beatrice Loayza explore past and present work of Joanna Hogg in the British Film Institute’s “BFI At Home | Filmmakers in Focus” series:
The Atlantic’s David Sims hails Part II as a “refreshing” when compared to the raft of franchises clogging theaters: “The film lets Julie make mistakes as she tries to express herself through art, demonstrating both compassion for Hogg’s fictional self and gentle self-critique.
“When [Julie] finally shows audienceshercompleted grad-school project, her new maturity is evident. Hogg depicts the work as a gorgeous, abstract piece of art cinema, a blend of her own youthful obsessions and her present-day experience behind the camera.”
READ MORE: A Movie That Reimagines What Sequels Are For (The Atlantic)
Some impressions were not as rosy. Igor Fishman at In Review Online is disappointed, calling Part II “a protracted epilogue to a film that never needed one.”
“It lacks a driving force, and for the first time, Hogg, a director whose idiosyncratic filmography has been marked by confidence, appears to be grasping in the dark.
“We watch the same gorgeously composed images of The Souvenir become so devoid of feeling or power. This aspect becomes most obvious in looking at The Souvenir: Part II’s ending, which reduces Julie to a mere character; her pain, her grief, her creative ambitions all caught in a loop of artifice, nothing but a film within a film.”
READ MORE: The Souvenir: Part II | Joanna Hogg (In Review Online)
However NPR’s Justin Chang doesn’t perceive the film as ever being narrow or solipsistic: “It’s a wonderfully generous movie, sardonic in tone but rich in understated emotion. Hogg regards her younger self both critically and affectionately, and she shows an instinctive fairness toward all her characters.
“She’s also extremely attentive to how they look, talk and present themselves: Rather than overdoing the big ‘80s hair and obvious needle drops, aside from one exhilarating use of the Eurythmics, she channels the vibe of the era with exquisite subtlety.”
READ MORE: ‘The Souvenir Part II’ is a near-perfect sequel about loss and art (NPR)
The film moved The Knockturnal’s Joshua A. Guttman to tears. But it’s empathy rather than sorrow: “Even outside of filmmaking, anyone working a job in their passion can relate to this film. It’s hard enough to put so much of yourself in your art, but when you’re still reconciling your feelings and relationships, you’re almost forced to confront those uncertainties with yourself through your art.
“It helps that this film isn’t just one long anxiety attack. The moments where Julie starts to forge new relationships or little things start to work out in her film feel like a giant exhaled breath. There are moments when you see why artists put up with all the stress and anxiety, how it can be worth it for those moments. Not only do I want people to see this movie, but I also hope they’re as touched by it as I was.”