Cannes: The second half of Joanna Hogg’s masterful coming-of-age story offers a dreamy and brilliant deconstruction of the first.

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Joanna Hogg’s miraculous 2019 film-memoir “The Souvenir” ends with her chic, self-centered and newly grieved heroine – a 25-year-old film student in 1980s London – standing on the precipice. Her name is Julie Harte, she’s played by Honor Swinton Byrne with the raw honesty of someone making their way through a solar eclipse, and she follows in Hogg’s uncertain footsteps with someone’s faltering confidence. who saw “I know where I’m going!” “enough times to convince herself that she could. She even lives in an immaculate recreation of the writer-director’s former apartment, built on a soundstage and surrounded by huge enlargements of the photos Hogg once took. taken through the windows of this apartment.

Julie was shaken out of her cage by the death of her heroin addicted first love (Tom Burke). And like Hogg, she’s determined to oxidize her pain into something productive. “Someone I loved gave me a box full of darkness,” poet Mary Oliver wrote. “It took me years to realize that this too was a gift.” As she turns her face to the camera in the film’s heartbreaking penultimate shot – wiser, hurt – Julie looks set to make the most of the memory her late Anthony left behind.

The story could have ended there. Hogg’s didn’t, of course, but “The Souvenir” reveals enough of her trajectory for viewers to retrace how she finally broke through the cocoon of her own privilege and spread her wings as one of the filmmakers. most creative Britons of the past 30 years. And yet, the project has always been conceived as a diptych. As far as Hogg is concerned, the first installment was a call requiring a response. It was not enough to construct a diorama-like dissection of his formative years, or to draw lasting beauty from his most painful memories; it wasn’t enough for Anthony to offer Julie a box of darkness, she would have to open it and shine her light inside.

And so we come to “The Souvenir Part II”, an extraordinary work of meta-fiction that continues where the previous film left off, and subverts the thoroughness of its construction to illuminate why Hogg felt the need to do so in. first place. As vulnerable as its predecessor and textured with the same sense of velvety becoming, “Part II” adds new layers of depth and distance to the mirror of Hogg’s self-reflection, as it follows Julie through the difficult process of making it. from her graduation film… a short film that happens to be the tragic story of a 25-year-old London girl’s relationship with an older heroic drug addict.

Not only is the set in Julie’s film virtually identical to the apartment in “Le Souvenir”, but it is the apartment in “Le Souvenir”, but this time the camera pulls back to reveal the plane hanger that holds it. surrounded. In essence, Hogg is making a movie about his young self making a movie about his young self’s worst heartache, which is actually a remake of the previous movie Hogg did (the press notes deftly refer to the ” Part II “as” a deconstruction a reconstruction “). And while the view through that endless mirror of romantic dramas isn’t as confusing as it might seem on paper, or not at all, it also gets dazzlingly complicated at the end, as the slavish recreation gives way to a richer synthesis of memory and imagination.

It was inevitable that Julie would abandon the Sunderland family drama she was preparing in “Part I” and make art from her own story instead, but her personal connection to the material only adds to the pressure to do it right. Julie is still grieving when the film begins, having retired from the world to her parents’ house in Norfolk Pastoral; his mother is gloriously pardoned by a brittle sweet Tilda Swinton (Honor Swinton Byrne’s “Swinton”), while his father is played with perfect reserve by first-time actor and local farmer James Spencer Ashworth. In addition to her loss, Julie is confronted with a possible memory of another kind: her period is late.

The friends of Julie’s film school, meanwhile, are back in the big city and moving at full speed. A number of his friends return from the previous film and with a lot more screen time than before, notably Garance (Ariane Labed, whose resemblance to Byrne does not go unnoticed) and Patrick (the great Richard Ayoade, absolutely out of the picture. the chain as an author diva in training). The confidence – sometimes arrogance – that they have in their lavish thesis projects would be enough to rattle anyone, even though most of Julie’s colleagues are much more supportive than Professor Fuddy Duddy who doesn’t understand her generative process. (which, of course, is also the Hogg process).

There are also new faces, most of them from handsome boys. Jim (the “Stranger Things” escape and Harry Styles lookalike Charlie Heaton) doesn’t seem to care that Julie is emotionally unavailable, and their flirtation leads to a cut-off match for the ages. A gangly idol named Pete (Harris Dickinson, of “Beach Rats”) is cast as Anthony in Julie’s film, though Hogg oddly takes all “Vertigo” type anxiety out of seeing another man in the role. of her ex-boyfriend might be chatting, while Joe Alwyn steps in for a splendid two-scene quickie as a kind-hearted student editor.

These people come and go without much fanfare, for “The Souvenir Part II” is – like its predecessor, though somewhat less – a film shattered into fragments of memory, Julie’s arc scattered across a pointillist constellation of briefs. moments special enough to resonate for a lifetime. Byrne’s deeply felt performance ensures that all of these moments share a constant gravity between them. As Labed describes one of the actresses who could play Julie in the movie in the movie: “She’s vulnerable but a bit noble.” She is also able to force a smile that conveys the intense unconsciousness of someone who is struggling to distinguish themselves. Does Anthony miss her, or does he miss the part of herself that he lit up for her? Julie might not know how to phrase this question meaningfully, but Hogg makes sure it won’t go unanswered.

Like “The Souvenir” itself (both parts of it), Byrne’s performance draws its power from a constant accumulation of small gleams. He sees growing up as the process by which – to borrow Patrick’s favorite word – we tessellate ourselves with all the flashes of joy and the broken shards of pain that we collect along the way. A process by which we sift through an ocean of experiences to find a few pearls that follow one another. And sometimes, if you’re lucky enough to have a mind, you can organize them into a template of your own design.

If Julie initially frustrates her team by knocking out her flash memories of Anthony and muttering “This is what happened” whenever someone questions her creative decisions, she learns during this film that l art can do more than just wash away its lived experience. Julie makes a transcendent memorial to her late boyfriend – a soul-leaf-body sequence that crowns Hogg’s project as one of the most timeless and thrilling coming-of-age stories the movies have given us. – but she does it in exchange for the greatest gift he has ever given her.

“We want to see life not as it is lived”, he tells her in “The Remembrance”, “but as it is lived within this soft machine”, and a version of those same words comes out. of Julie’s head when she is against a wall in “Part II”. “I don’t want to see life as it was,” she stresses, “I want to see life as I imagine it.” Julie recognizes this mantra as a north star for her art and uses it as her light through the darkness – a light that will cause her to cross the screen and come out the other side.

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“The Souvenir Part II” premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. A24 will release it in the United States.

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