“The Souvenir Part II” faces an unusual challenge. Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), the aspiring filmmaker protagonist of Part I (2019), returns. But that film’s most interesting character, her lover, Anthony (Tom Burke), doesn’t. He died at the end of the movie. But since much of Part II consists of Julie’s making a student film about her relationship with Anthony, that keeps him around in spirit, and Burke shows up in a few flashbacks.
If that sounds overly self-involved, that’s because it is. For both “Souvenir” films, the writer-director Joanna Hogg has drawn heavily on her own life. It’s largely set in the early ‘80s, for example, when Hogg was finishing film school. There are further nested-doll aspects. Byrne’s real-life mother, Tilda Swinton, plays Julie’s mother, Rosalind. Swinton starred in Hogg’s graduation film, and Hogg is Byrne’s godmother.
There’s the further, generic self-involvement of films about filmmaking. This isn’t a problem if the film about filmmaking is, say, “Singin’ in the Rain” or “81⁄2.“ Not many are. Fortunately, both “Souvenir” films have two signal virtues: Hogg’s style and their star.
The former is quietly involving: unhurried, unemphatic, observant. It’s so unobtrusive one might easily overlook how distinctive Hogg’s style is and effective. She does have a weakness for closeups of blossoming flowers and ripening fruits as a transition device, but at least they’re pretty.
Even better is the presence of Byrne. Her Julie is intelligent, shyly passionate, inward, self-doubting yet determined, almost alarmingly deferential. She’s someone who says “thank you” a lot. It’s almost her motto. There’s nothing actor-ish or mannered about Byrne. She doesn’t even seem to be giving a performance, which underscores just how good a performance it actually is.
For much of the film Julie is still grieving over Anthony. “Did you know what was going on with this chap?” asks her father (James Spencer Ashworth) with stiff upper cluelessness. “Where’s my sunny girl?” asks her mother. It’s a country-life, floral-wallpaper world Julie comes from: the sort of emotional place where people ask questions like that.
Swinton has fashioned a splendid career out of playing eccentrics and bohos. You can feel her satisfaction here. It’s not just in acting with her daughter, but also in being placed in such a non-Swinton-ish setting and cast so thoroughly against type. Rosalind is obtusely, even bewilderingly conventional, if also caring and concerned.
The sedateness of Julie’s background makes the contrast with the world of film school and filmmaking all the more striking. Richard Ayoade, who had one scene in Part I, gets more screen time in Part II as Patrick, a high-maintenance filmmaker who was a friend of Anthony. The part is very showy, and Ayoade isn’t shy about showing off the showiness.
The business about making the graduation film — called, yes, “The Souvenir,” and with a title card identical to that of Hogg’s film — gets a bit yammery. People argue. People posture. Small things matter a lot — to the people on screen, if not necessarily to those watching it. There’s lot of drama, though it’s not all that dramatic.
After the film is done and we see its premiere, there’s an extended dream or fantasy sequence. It reworks, or imagines, much of Part I. The sequence is impressively flashy, as if Hogg is indulging her inner Patrick. It also feels as if it’s wandered in from someone else’s “Souvenir.”
A few more scenes take us through the decade (notice the very ‘80s shoulders on the jacket Julie is wearing while directing a music video) and up to the fall of the Berlin Wall (seen in a TV news clip). The final shot will either make you hear the pleasing sound of everything clicking together, just so — or the self-referentiality will make you roll your eyes. It’s a bravura ending to a film that at its frequent best is the opposite of bravura.
THE SOUVENIR PART II
Written and directed by Joanna Hogg. Starring Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade. At Boston Common, Kendall Square, Coolidge Corner, 108 minutes. R (strong sexuality, language)
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.