Logan Kenny’s review published on Letterboxd:
not to be a bummer but as someone who knows intimately the trauma of grieving a romantic partner, and the weight of constructing personal art about that grief, I don’t feel like Hogg captures either the anguish of the reflective process nor any of the humanity of her film within a film’s subject. I didn’t like the first film because it saw Tom Burke’s addiction as secondary to the trauma of Byrne existing next to it, with his death and drug issues being more about her reaction to it than a breathing, living man being killed by a disease. I thought it was actively cruel towards addicts and selfishly framed, something that hit on a personal level because of my close proximity to people who’ve suffered with addiction issues. this film doesn’t have the issues of its predecessor in one major area, it doesn’t have the addict to direct condescension and pity towards, it is all about the living woman who must carry on with the weight of her loss. it cannot be cruel to a character who is no longer in the realm of existence, and Hogg must find new ways to channel her frustrations and heartbreaks. Swinton Byrne becomes a prop for not only grief, but creative indecision and most importantly, anxiety about the perception of her work.
The Souvenir Part II is more about the worry of being judged for a depiction of a dead person, than actually exploring the dead or the impact that their loss has on those who continue breathing. it is a movie about inherent contradictions and the nature of artifice, and sometimes it succeeds at exploring and living amongst these anxious reflections. I think the Harris Dickinson scenes are the most successful at capturing her anxiety over her work’s perception, benefited by the fact that he’s a very good actor. however, it can get lost in the tedium of pretentious film school philosophising and the Tory ambience of the world Swinton Byrne is surrounded by. the lack of Burke’s enigmatic, devastating allure takes away a lot of the momentum of the predecessor, even if it’s definitely for the best that addiction cannot be further exploited by Hogg. Swinton Byrne’s restraint is well performed but lacks the palpable construction or emotional resonance of a performance like Hidetoshi Nishijima’s turn in Drive My Car, which is a significantly more honest and palpable example of forcibly disguising one’s grief. it is a performance for a more subtle and nuanced depiction of devastation, that is supposed to accumulate gradually before cutting your jugular as the finale approaches. whether this works is subjective, I don’t think the film fully justifies its approach since it doesn’t seem to have the spine of a film like Drive My Car, where every detail of the Chekhov production is calibrated to ensure that the culminating scenes resonate as palpably as possible. this meanders more often, and like mentioned earlier, seems mostly interested in anxiety and minutiae than it is about pain.
however, Hogg’s jagged build-up does lead to one stunning moment, with the cameo appearance of Burke reminding me of dreams I’ve had of my lost love, where she’s close enough to recognise tangibly but always separated by the limitations of reality. I have wanted to create films to provide a world where she exists in permanence somehow, where I can rewrite our ending, and this brief moment of abstraction felt truly honest and staggering in its approach to loss. it is a haunting, heartbreaking couple of minutes and it’s a shame that I don’t feel like the film has anything tangible to say about grief before or after it. to me, it comes close enough to being honest that I can’t dismiss it as easily I did with the first film. that one moment will go a long way for me, as I did cry and it did make me think about all the endless fantasies of seeing my partner again. but this largely falls into the negative end of the contradictions, more interested in its own existence than anything else. for most of it, you’d forget that Burke even existed.
in making a work about loss, we have to understand that the memory of the person changes forever because they are gone, whether that’s a happy memory tainted by melancholy, or a frustrating one that becomes fond in hindsight. there are no memories here. there are no moments of grace, of true memory. it is all about process now. I get that it’s about suppression to the point of mundanity, but it is mechanical to me in that delivery. I know many people felt a ton of emotion throughout the entirety of this film’s finale, I wish I could say the same. l went through this kind of grief and I saw very few glimpses of the truth of it. that’s just my experience and it feels unfair to review the movie properly because of my overwhelming bias, which is why this is just a Letterboxd capsule, but The Souvenir Part II represents the downside of personal art’s inherent artifice. I will remain thankful for that one Burke moment for a long, long time, but overall, I don’t think I should have watched this film. I don’t think I’ll ever want to see it again.