Sequels are clogging theaters this fall—just look at the new entries in the James Bond, Venom, Halloween, and Marvel franchises. Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir Part II is yet another retread, following up on her 2019 movie about a young filmmaker coming of age and navigating a doomed relationship. But this is not a typical sequel, and in a cinematic landscape often dominated by lazy, cash-grab blockbusters, Hogg’s work stands out. While watching a Part 2 of a British independent art film feels strange at moments, the experience is also refreshing.
In continuing her semi-autobiographical tale, Hogg demonstrates the oft-undeployed power of a second entry. She uses the new film not just to push forward the story of Julie (played by Honor Swinton Byrne) but also to consider the character’s past. In the first movie, Julie wanted to be a filmmaker who captured authentic struggle, such as the plight of the British working class under Thatcherism, but her ambitions were sidetracked by her romance with the charming and intense Anthony (Tom Burke), a civil servant who eventually lost his life to his heroin addiction. In The Souvenir Part II, Julie’s renewed thirst for artistic truth leads her to make a film about her own life. In what is both a weird sequel and a self-aware remake, Hogg shows how the creative process can transmute painful memories into beguiling entertainment.
Although the first installment seemed to hew closely to Hogg’s life, the second blurs the line between truth and fiction. In reality, Hogg didn’t direct a theatrical feature until 2007’s Unrelated, which came out when she was 47; The Souvenir didn’t come out until she was 59. Part II imagines a world in which she was allowed to make that movie as a much younger person. 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.