Wow, another sequel??? When will it end, Hollyweird??? Well, this one is clearly the exception to the standard blockbuster swill. The Souvenir Part II is Joanna Hogg’s follow-up to 2019’s The Souvenir, which happened to be my favorite film that year. Starring Honor Swinton-Byrne and Tom Burke, The Souvenir is a stunning semi-autobiographical work about a young artist in crisis, trying to find herself while having her spirit eroded by a troubled older man. It’s not a film one might expect to get a follow-up, but we are so lucky Joanna Hogg returned to Julie’s story. The Souvenir Part II is not only a wonderful film, but even manages to enhance and magnify the brilliance of the original. The only flaw is that I cannot imagine Part II standing on its own, as it truly is the second half of one epic tale.

Part II picks up almost immediately after the original, with Julie (Swinton-Byrne, still great) reeling from the death of her addict boyfriend Antony (Burke). Her mother, Rosalind (Tilda Swinton, in one of her best performances in her sublime career), dotes on her in her own way, but Julie is still lost. She has decided to channel her grief into her senior thesis film, focusing on a young woman dealing with her troubled boyfriend. Her friends support her vision, but she faces many challenges as a first-time director under a lot of stress. It’s not easy to make a film, especially about such a traumatic event that just happened. Richard Ayoade also returns as Antony’s friend Patrick who is dealing with his own film production drama where Julie comes to observe his professional process. The world of Part II is a brighter and wider one, welcoming Julie into a life not free of hardship and strife, but one where artistic fulfillment can be achieved and celebrated.

The Souvenir duology is such an emotional experience I have trouble finding words to describe it beyond “magnificent” and “overwhelming.” It has to be seen to be believed, this labor of love and craft and artistry. These films are the finest arthouse sequence this side of the Before Trilogy. Part II is a film about the quicksand feeling of dread, the one you think you’ll never climb out of, until the day you suddenly do. There’s nothing like it.

The Souvenir Part II
Dir. Joanna Hogg
106 min

Opens this Friday 11/5 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre

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