A director’s life gets a sequel

Sequels, spinoffs, and origin stories fill the multiplexes, but it’s extremely rare to see two feature films centered on the same real-world character. Enter “The Souvenir”, two films directed by Joanna Hogg on a subject that is not common on the screen either: a young woman who finds her way in life and thrives.

In “The Souvenir,” released in 2019, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is a film school student in 1980s London. Her relationship with Anthony, a witty and good-natured old man, derails when he appears as a ‘he’s addicted to heroin. “The Souvenir Part II”, which opens on October 29, follows a solo by Julie working her voice as a person and as a director – a new chapter rich in experience where only one film could have declared “The End. “.

“You normally don’t have that opportunity with the story, to pause in the middle and think about what you’re doing and approach things differently the second way,” Hogg said in an interview in a downtown hotel the day after he came. the film premiered at the New York Film Festival last month. (Part II takes place just days after Part I but was shot two years later.)

Until recently, his films were like a beloved secret. “Joanna Hogg – where have you been all my cinematic life? Manohla Dargis wrote when the director’s first three feature films were finally released in the US in 2014. AO Scott called the opening act “an absolute joy to watch.” Distributed by the A24 brand, “The Souvenir Part II” is the latest entry in Hogg’s much admired work.

Her fans include ‘Midsommar’ director Ari Aster, who said in an email, “At her best, she lends a subtle and deeply individual strangeness to the everyday. He praised her as “a meticulous, texture-obsessed columnist in the best sense of the word.” Another fan: President Barack Obama, who counted “Part I” among his favorite films of 2019.

Scottish novelist Ali Smith (“Summer”), who has previously screened Hogg’s work at an art festival, said via email: “His films are beautiful things in the world, and witty, hyper intelligent, sharp with a scalpel, both ruthless and deeply human. ” Smith added, “She takes the class apart, she has a clear eye on traditions that confuse us or vitalize us.”

Julie’s story draws heavily on Hogg’s memories. Like Julie, Hogg studied film in the 1980s at the National Film and Television School and dated a devastatingly charming man and drug addict. And Julie’s background, like Hogg’s, is solidly upper middle class. Visits to Julie’s parents’ country house punctuate the two films; Artifacts, clothing, and photos from Hogg’s life also appear everywhere. “Part I” addresses the notion of privilege, as Julie faces skeptical teachers about her initial proposal to make a film about a struggling port city. “Part II” sees her come out of her shell and, as Hogg said, “join the world, join life”.

Hogg began a career in British television and did not make his first theatrical feature film until 2007 at the age of 47: “Unrelated”, starring Tom Hiddleston, who is also making his feature film debut. “The Souvenir Part II” imagines a different trajectory for Julie, giving her a freedom that Hogg did not have at the time.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to make a movie in film school that was about the relationship I had been in,” the director said. Friendly and understated in an understated dark top and pants, she chose her words firmly, but with a dry, modest understatement that would fit seamlessly into a Joanna Hogg movie. “It was important for her to be less naive and therefore more in control of her life and therefore of her history.”

The ties of friends and family are even more closely tied to the cast of Hogg. The director knew Swinton Byrne as the daughter of a former classmate, Tilda Swinton. (Hogg is Swinton Byrne’s godmother.) Swinton starred in Hogg’s real-life graduation film, “Caprice,” and plays Julie’s beloved mother in both parts of “The Souvenir.”

Yet Swinton Byrne was cast less than a month before filming for “Part I” began. Hogg was visiting Swinton to play Julie’s mother but still didn’t have a Julie.

“I was getting on a train back to London, and Honor was coming home from London,” Hogg said. The two chatted on the platform about ‘what it’s like to be in your early 20s’ and for Hogg it just ‘clicked’.

“I feel like I was very similar to Julie when I was a little younger. You know how precarious it is, ”said Swinton Byrne, 23, bubbling over the phone from Edinburgh, where she is studying psychology after teaching in Namibia, among others. (“My mom says I’m not fully done yet,” she laughed.)

Julie de Swinton Byrne counts on the past in “The Souvenir Part II” but spends a lot of time on a soundstage, leading her team and explaining the motivations to her actors. (His classmates include a hilariously biting Richard Ayoade.)

Hogg “dramatizes the fragmented life of the imaginary, completing a story full of hesitations at first,” critic Molly Haskell said in an email, citing Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet. “In my opinion, the only similar remote cinematic experience of recent years is that of Richard Linklater.Before the trilogy.

Hogg’s two-part idea – that it dates at least from a diary entry in 1988 – was not a sure thing. She had planned to shoot both films at the same time, until a financier retired. Another twist involved Robert Pattinson, who was slated for a (later reworked) role in “Part II” but was linked to “Tenet” instead. (No resentment from Hogg: “I hope I will work with him in the future.”)

“I desperately wanted to do them at the same time, because I thought there was a danger that if I just did the first, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do the second,” Hogg recalls.

Today, she is grateful for the extra time and even thinks the second part would have been “a shadow of herself” if she had shot the two films together.

It’s easy to see this adaptability and find chemistry in the lags of reality as part of his cinematic style. Despite his films’ precise ear for speech, Hogg does not write traditional screenplays, giving actors the opportunity to dialogue. She lets the scenes unfold at length, often with room-scale shots that allow us to imbibe give and take.

A tragicomic streak in his “Archipelago,” with Hiddleston, sees a family procrastinate dysfunctionally over where to sit in a restaurant. (“Never has the term ‘faffing about’ been so perfectly illustrated,” critic Jonathan Romney wrote approvingly in The Independent.)

Alex Heeney, who co-wrote a monograph on Joanna Hogg, told me, “Hogg films are less about duration and more about how people revolve around each other and how their spaces facilitate or prevent that. . In “The Souvenir”, she added, Julie “has to work to become the protagonist of her own life, and this is not taken lightly.”

Hogg is already in the process of editing his next film “The Eternal Daughter”, a ghost story starring Swinton. Meanwhile, Hogg’s “Souvenir” star Swinton Byrne still seemed to be pondering his character’s two-part journey.

“It’s like watching a friend get up after a very intense breakup or intense loss,” she said. “This is what I have been waiting for a long time, to see Julie, whom I see as a friend, become a whole person.”

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