The Souvenir - Part II
[…] Joanna Hogg meanwhile uses her visual ingenuity and imagination to create a film that feels oddly familiar and yet offers something different, original and exciting in terms of tone, shading and texture in almost every scene.
Here below Pamela’s Jahn interview with Joanna Hogg on her second part of The Souvenir.
The love remains, the austere light too, but the colour has completely gone. What was pastel before is now white, even in the spring, as Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) mourns the death of Anthony (Tom Burke), the charismatic but complicated young man she had just met – and fallen deeply in love with – as she set off to start her degree in filmmaking in 1980s London. This is the fragile premise of Joanna Hogg’s second instalment of The Souvenir (2019), which picks up almost immediately where the first part left off, both narratively and stylistically. That being said, the lack of colour at the beginning isn't the only subtle yet recognisable change in this second film. There is also a maturity in Swinton Byrne's performance that wasn't there before but soon comes to full strength in this highly fictional auto-portrayal of the director’s own youthful education. The colours return eventually, as Julie gradually processes her grief and starts to retake control of her life. For the best part of The Souvenir Part II, she is trying to finish her graduation film that has shifted from a documentary-style study of working lives in Sunderland to something more bold, more personal, more fantastical. Joanna Hogg meanwhile uses her visual ingenuity and imagination to create a film that feels oddly familiar and yet offers something different, original and exciting in terms of tone, shading and texture in almost every scene. There is a hint of warmth and delight to this gorgeously multi-layered, mysterious memoir film that gives The Souvenir Part II both a peculiar lightness and emotional depth while simultaneously harking back to the subtle art of detachment at work in the first film. By staying true to herself and her cinematic virtue, Hogg has found a way to make this two-part arrangement an intriguing and weirdly wonderful whole.
Interview with Joanna Hogg, by Pamela Jahn
Pamela Jahn (PJ): Mrs. Hogg, the two films complement each other but they can also be seen individually. Did you always plan this to be a two-part project?
Joanna Hogg (JH): I never use the word sequel, because I always saw it as part one and part two, but it was always one piece of work. The idea wasn’t that I would make a part one and then see how it goes. Most sequels come about at a later point whereas The Souvenir was planned like this from the outset, and, unlike some films - for example Bertolucci’s 1900 or Lars von Triers Nymphomaniac that got released in two parts because they had turned out too long, and the directors decided to split them rather than to cut them - I felt that the story needed an experience and then a reaction to the experience. It needed to have some kind of separation to amount to a whole.
PJ: How did it feel to come back to part two, following the reviews and reactions from the audience that you received after part one?
JH: I didn’t like the idea of a break in between the two films. The reason I wanted to shoot them together is that I didn’t want to risk the second part not happening. I thought there was a danger that, if part one didn't do well enough at the box office, then my financiers would say, “sorry, let's leave it at that”, and that, to me, would have been like doing half a film. It would have been incomplete. Impossible. However, there was this risk, a real risk. Fortunately, they did let me do the second one, but I still found the gap in between quite difficult to handle in the beginning, because part one came out and I didn’t want to hear the reaction. It didn’t matter to me whether it was a positive or negative reaction, I just didn’t want to know anything, because I didn’t want to be influenced ahead of making part two. I didn’t want a critic to say they really didn’t like that character, that storyline didn’t work, or something that I was planning to integrate into the character, so I kind of blindfolded and muffled myself, protected myself from abuse. I didn’t read anything.
PJ: That must have been quite difficult given the attention the film received overall.
JH: I didn’t mind actually because I wanted to stay in my own bubble of the story, and then it ended up being an advantage, a good thing that there was this gap, because I was able to create ideas that I wouldn’t have had during a very long shoot, which would have been a very tiring thing, all in one go. Especially Julie’s film dream, whatever we want to call it, that wouldn’t have developed in the way that it did.
PJ: Did you always know that you were going to have Richard Ayoade in the film again? He is only in one scene in the first film but, this time, it seems that he is fundamental to Julie's development as a filmmaker.
JH: I agree, so yes, it was clear to me that he was going to be coming back and I knew when we were shooting part one that there was this arc for his character or for Julie’s character, in a sense that he would suggest the idea of a memorial and that this would feed into what she ends up doing.
PJ: Is he similar to a mentor you had back in the Eighties?
JH: No. It would have been quite interesting to have had a mentor like that, but no, he’s an amalgam of different directors at that time. Mainly French filmmakers really, probably about three or four, particularly directors of that time with seemingly an incredible amount of confidence and a big vision. I was interested in that kind of ego for Julie to observe and be influenced by because he (Ayoade’s character) ends up being a very positive influence in a way. He’s very clear.
PJ: This was such a personal project for you. Was it a cathartic experience in a way?
JH: I'm not sure. I definitely feel that my memories of that time are now a bit confused by what I have created because some things were very similar. For example, the apartment that Julie lives in was a replica of somewhere I lived so now there is a little bit of a confusion. Even when I look at a still of that apartment, for a moment it’s disorientating, so I don’t know if it is a good thing. Maybe cathartic, but it certainly messes with your brain, with your memories.
PJ: Honor Swinton Byrne really seems to grow into Julie this time and out of the shyness and awkwardness that radiated from her character in the first part.
JH: Her story was always very clear to me, and not necessarily because it happened to me, not because of the details of what happened in my life, but just the journey that Julie needed to go on. I observed Honor and what she brought to the part definitely influenced what I did with Julie in this second film and added to that feeling of positivity. I always knew I wanted Julie to come out and start to have a voice, and you are right, she always felt a bit like she was in a straight-jacket in part one because Julie is not really reacting, things are just happening to her, and then, seeing Honor and how she is, I was longing for that to open up.
PJ: In the film we see Julie defend her own vision, her ideas as a filmmaker. There is almost an underlying arrogance to the way she and others defend their ideas in a way.
JH: I don’t think it’s arrogance. I'm not sure if I can articulate it, because it’s sort of part of who I am, but I find that when I have got a story I want to tell, a film I want to make, I will fight for those ideas and those films. So, I think it is maybe just stubbornness, but it’s necessary. There’s a desire to create these bits of work, so anything that gets in its way might be problematic, but I share in both parts different ways of being a director; there are so many different ways of doing it, some directors don’t want to have any input from anybody and want to stick to their own script, so to speak, and others like to absorb more.
PJ: Would you be interested in picking up with Julie again sometime in the future, to see where her life had gone?
JH: I am sure I would. I think what happens with all my films is that they are all connected in some way. In the case of Oakley, for example, the character Tom Hiddleston plays in Unrelated, I had a very strong feeling after making that film that I wanted to see what happened to Oakley in ten years, because I thought life would not be going well. I didn’t do that precisely, but I then saw another side of time and took that idea ten years later into the character he plays in Archipelago, so there are all these sorts of lines like flight paths between my films. It may not be directly Julie in another film, but something will spring from that.
PJ: The music in the film is also very personal. How did you choose the tracks that would make it into the final cut?
JH: Actually, I opened up my sort of repertoire of what I listen to in part two. I think in part one it pretty much keeps to music that I was listening to at that time. In part two it’s all pretty much Small Faces.
PJ: Wasn't Erasure in there, too?
JH: Yes, I did listen to that, but then I discovered a really interesting musician called Catherine Ribeiro, and then Nico. I don’t know how much Nico I was listening to at that time, but I know all the tracks that I loved, and I really enjoyed working with the music, but also, alongside that, there was Bluebeard, coming from part one into part two, and that was also exciting to me, to juxtapose the different musical styles.
PJ: The outside world in the first part was created from noises, like the bombing in London which we hear but don’t see, but in this part we see the Berlin Wall falling and it feels as if that outside world is invading Julie's world. Is there a metaphoric element in this, that she is also breaking down something like a wall to free herself from the past?
JH: Yeah, but it’s also connected to the Wall of Jericho in part one, so it connects to Anthony. I feel her tears are to do with the emotion of the Berlin Wall coming down and the amazing release of that, but it also has a personal connection for her. I wanted it to be a direct experience that we see and that is a catalytic moment for her.
PJ: It's almost sad that we don't see much for Anthony in this part. Still, he seems to haunt the film in his own way.
JH: Yes, absolutely, and he does appear briefly, obviously, but he’s not credited, because I didn’t want people to have the expectation that he was going to be coming back. I wanted the dream to be something to discover.
PJ: Do you still have your old student films from your time at film school?
JH: I've got my graduation film, yes, but if you saw them side-by-side, Julie's film and my graduation film, it's wishful thinking in a way. I wish I had been able to use my experience in my graduation film.
PJ: Did you watch it again?
JH: I did, it’s pretty unbearable to watch.
PJ: You wrote and shot an entirely new film during lockdown.
JH: Yes, I wrote it during the first lockdown and shot it in the second lockdown. I’m not going to tell you about it, but I don’t normally have such a quick turnover.
PJ: Is it inspired on some level by what is happening in the world right now?
JH: No, it has nothing to do with that. I just had some time and space to think, a lot of time and space indoors, in my flat in London, not being able to go out, and it was just a very productive time for me. I was very anxious, but out of that anxiety comes creativity. I love having ideas. I write even if I'm just sitting somewhere with a notebook. I like some kind of focus and this was it.
Text: Pamela Jahn
First published: October 13, 2021
The Souvenir – Part II | Film | Joanna Hogg | IR-UK 2021 | 107’ | Zurich Film Festival 2021