4 film school students respond to The Souvenir Part II
Joanna Hogg’s 2019 feature The Souvenir was a kind of revelation. The film wasn’t a breakthrough for Hogg per se – a British director whose early films had won critical acclaim and esteem from her peers. But its naturalistic performances and personal, almost-memoir plot put Hogg’s own story (and singular storytelling style) into the spotlight.
We met Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a thoughtful and ambitious film student living in a flat in Knightsbridge. Julie’s world is turned upside down when she meets Anthony, a troubled soul with a clutch of secrets. The relationship becomes an ordeal that rocks Julie emotionally and disrupts her studies. Fast forward three years Hogg raises the curtain The Souvenir: Part II and brings us the story of what happened next.
We find Julie back home with her mother (played by Swinton Byrne’s actual mother, Tilda Swinton) and preparing to create her final-year project at film school. Working through grief, desire and artistry, the film is a masterful portrait of growing up and re-emergence through the fog of immense heartbreak. And it’s a story largely set at film school in the early 1980s. Loosely based on Hogg’s own experience, Julie’s graduation film forms the centerpiece for her personal recovery.
To celebrate this remarkable film landing on MUBI today (20 April 2022), we spoke to film students about their responses to the film and its portrayal of the film school experience. Watch The Souvenir: Part II on MUBI with 30 days free at mubi.com/crackmagazine. For more on The Souvenir, listen to our podcast conversation between Joanna Hogg and Anna Calvi, who stars in the film and also wrote its ending theme.
I found Hogg’s portrayal of film school to be much like the film itself; an almost fantastical combination of the stereotypical film school image with such realistic elements that the viewer may question if such moments are exaggerated or truth. Film school is often full of juxtapositions. Young people are desperately trying to be regarded as professional adults whilst also being in their most developmental and naive time.
My own experience of film school was different in many ways, as I attended an arts school in 2019 in Manchester. Hogg’s film school reflected the growing excitement of the future of cinema in a new age, with it’s students being a more privileged, wealthy select few rather than the wider opportunities now available for people to attend university. However the theme that felt incredibly close to home for me was the deeply honest, soul revealing nature of making art. Personally one of my biggest take-aways from art school, and the film, was the ludicrous, chaotic and cathartic act of young people learning to put themselves into their art and be prepared for critique from all.
A particular shot that stayed in mind for me was Julie looking down on her bloody bedsheets after her fleeting romance with Jim, a young actor. If The Souvenir was Julie’s rebellion phase, The Souvenir II feels like her growth. We see her grow from a somewhat naive young woman experiencing trauma and love for the first time, to a woman expelling her past and confronting every ounce of pain head on. Here we begin to see her taking ownership of her sexuality, thus allowing herself pleasure, with the blood being the result of having oral sex whilst on her period. Perhaps a literal metaphor, nevertheless a powerful image of inspecting her deepest most inner self, exposed for all to see.
Lauren McCaughey is currently studying at Manchester School of Art follow them here.
I enjoyed watching The Souvenir Part II, and in fact, preferred this second installment over the first. From a technical perspective, the blend of 16mm, 35mm, and digital throughout brings distinct moods. Moments shot on 16mm are intimate, I felt as if I was watching these moments through Julie’s gaze.
The parallels between Julie’s experience in Film school and my own almost spooked me but it’s likely this is also the case for many of my peers. In particular, the minibus ride where the crew has reached the limit of their frustration is a situation that is most definitely still prevalent now over 30 years later. Hogg represents the film school experience accurately: the challenge of working professionally with friends while maintaining said friendships as well as bringing to life a deeply personal story is a feat that our main character (understandably) can barely juggle.
Xanthe Nimmo is currently studying at Arts University Bournemouth follow them here.
My most distinct reflection on the representation of film school is the overriding feeling of fumbling through. Julie attempts to articulate ideas that she is unsure of and the storyline certainly suggests she may struggle to finish the film. Yet, she gets through and executes it to high regard. Despite Julie’s struggle to explain her vision, her classmates trust in her skill because of their experience of working together throughout the course. There is a strong focus on forming relationships for ongoing collaboration. We can’t ignore that Tilda Swinton featured in Joanna Hogg’s own graduation film in 1986, and much of a filmmaker’s network can come from the relationships that are formed at film school. Having studied predominantly during lockdown, this collaboration was unfortunately not something we could foster, and studying documentary directing, we were very much encouraged to focus on our own solo projects. However, we sought out this community for ourselves, and made what I hope are lifelong friends and colleagues.
One of the strengths of The Souvenir: Part Two is the tenderness in the family dynamic. We see this in the small details: Julie holding her father’s hand on a walk while she grieves, and the casual comfort in the conversation about her flat renovations with her mother. The tenderness of their relationship matches the bright interiors and open countryside of Julie’s parents’ home, creating rest from the stresses of the city for both Julie and the viewer.
There is a duality to the use of mirrors throughout the film. Firstly, they remind us that film is a construction – even when it is representing aspects of reality. We are only given reflections of Julie’s experience. This is compounded by the heavy jump-cut editing, and is highlighted in the opening tableau of Julie and her mother resting, that Julie’s father calls ‘a nice little scene.’ It is emphasised even more in the set dressing of the finale, suggesting the increasing metatheatre as Julie simultaneously rebuilds her film and her life. The film is inseparable from the life of the filmmaker.
The film is predominantly occupied with Julie’s grief and search for answers about Anthony’s death. However, the conversation with Marland about Julie’s film choices is one of the rare moments where Julie’s drive as a filmmaker shines through, away from the shadow of Anthony. Her concerns about what the film is supposed to be and comparisons to her classmates pinpoints a very real feeling for many filmmakers. Rightly, Marland’s advice to follow her own rules prevails, and is a pep talk we all need at times. This conversation starkly contrasts the later scene where the constraints of academia and industry formalities struck somewhat too close to home. There is a contradiction of the academic and the creative in any study of filmmaking – I am personally still unsure that writing on Derrida’s theories of deconstruction was much help in my work on transgender parenting, but boxes must be ticked. Certainly, the demands of tutorials like those represented in the film were often equally as constraining as they were helpful and brought up frustrations with the expectations for the short film form. Though times have changed and we were much more encouraged to push narrative boundaries, Julie’s struggles to explain the core idea behind her vision supplemented very recognisable tutorial and interpersonal environments.
Bea Goddard is currently studying at Edinburgh College of Art follow them here.
I watched the movie without having seen the first one. The film remains very understandable for those who have not seen the first part and gives all the keys to the story. We witness Julie’s mourning following Anthony’s death which she was in the grip of. The film is a mise en abyme, Julie is going to resume her studies of cinema and must make her end-of-year film. She will use her own experience as the red thread of her story.
Towards the end of the film, Julie makes a projection of her film, the film goes completely into the fantastic and the theatrical, breaking directly with the naturalism of the rest of the work. We see a Julie going through her relationship through metaphors reminding a little of Lynch’s cinema. I really liked this break after 1h30 of mourning on the part of the character. This scene comes as a rebirth, a new beginning for Julie.
Loane Manzoni is currently studying at Arfis Cinema School follow them here.
Watch The Souvenir: Part II on MUBI with 30 days free at mubi.com/crackmagazine