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Putting It Together

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Josh Barrett/A24

MOVIE REVIEW
The Souvenir Part II (2021)

“The Souvenir Part II” is, in essence, the making of “The Souvenir,” Joanna Hogg’s maybe autography about Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), the Sloane Ranger-y student enrolled at the Raynham Film School (stand-in for Ms. Hogg’s alma mater, the National Film and Television School) and living in Knightsbridge, who perpetually feigns a smile as her forehead tightens. The school seemingly expects her well-to-do folks (Tilda Swinton, Ms. Swinton Byrne’s real-life mum, and James Spencer Ashworth) to bankroll her student projects. They do, and in turn she takes some of the hard-begged handouts to support the drug habit and wastrel lifestyle of The Worst Fuckboi Ever, Anthony (Tom Burke).

As basic and beige as Julie is, one supposes it’s good that she at least has personal tragedies to mine, unlike Sonya Larson and whoever wrote “Cat Person.” After Anthony’s overdose at the conclusion of Part I, Julie retraces his steps to seek some answers while shepherding her graduation film. Department heads find her script poorly thought-out and decline to support it — so one can’t tell if it’s amateur hour or a stroke of genius that “The Souvenir Part II” is itself a hot mess.

Julie directs what appears to be “The Souvenir,” with fellow director-in-training Marland (Jaygann Ayeh) playing her and Pete (Harris Dickinson) as Anthony, on a set that looks like an exact replica of Julie’s Knightsbridge flat – or the same set used in “The Souvenir Part II,” depending on how meta Ms. Hogg wants this to get. Julie and Marland, while in character, are seen wearing the same pair of red slippers in the same apartment at different points.

Then Julie gets to show “The Souvenir” for her graduation! And – surprise! – it’s not Part I or even the one that we’ve seen her filming earlier, but one that’s every bit as incoherently artsy fartsy as the school administrators have feared. But – get this – this film-within-a-film also has Ms. Swinton Byrne and Mr. Burke in the leads! Mind blown! This certainly prompts viewers to reconsider all previous scenes and where they take place within the A24 multiverse. Perhaps Ms. Swinton Byrne’s various hair lengths will provide us with some clues – because her acting certainly doesn’t.

“The Souvenir Part II” ends with a party taking place at Julie’s flat, with new renovation details and her old pixie cut providing conflicting information. Then a jump cut takes us to the other side of the wall, revealing this scene in progress to in fact be taking place on a soundstage. Then the camera pulls back to reveal an entire film crew watching – though this time we don’t see who is in the director’s chair. It’s an incredibly powerful moment that definitely sends up the chills, but it still doesn’t tell us whether the film has been a high concept clumsily executed or Ms. Hogg trolling us all along.

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