Joanna Hogg sits on a hotel balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, but what she’d most like to do is swim in it.
The night before, Hogg premiered her film The Souvenir Part II at the Cannes Film Festival. Follow-up films may be a regular feature of the summer, but they rarely make it to Cannes. Yet The Souvenir is not a usual diptych.
Together, the films are a sublime, unique work of semi-autobiography – a coming-of-age self-portrait reflected through time and cinema. They are based on a period in Hogg’s life in the late 1980s, when she attended film school in London.
In part one, a romance with an older man with a hidden drug addiction ends tragically. In part two, Julie dedicates herself to making her latest student film about that experience as she works through her grief. In both, Honor Swinton Byrne plays a slightly fictionalized version of Hogg when she was younger; Byrne’s real mother, Tilda Swinton, plays her mother.
Honor Swinton Byrne, left, and Tilda Swinton pose for photographers at the 74th Cannes Film Festival. (Photo: AP)
The films were written together as one piece, divided into two films. And there are few like them.
“I’m not even sure I’ve completed it,” Hogg says, feeling a little surprised to feel that way. “It’s funny because I completed it. I make no other part. I don’t know if it really dawns on me that it’s done.”
The Souvenir Part II was one of the clear stars at the Cannes Film Festival. It starred in the Directors’ Fortnight, which runs parallel to the Cannes Official Selection. It is a hushed, formally composed film that played the Croisette from the central Palais of Cannes.
Still, few movies here have spawned so much fawn. Hogg’s project has already attracted a wide range of admirers (Martin Scorsese is an executive producer on both films). But “The Souvenir Part II”, which will release a24, only improves Hogg’s performance.
“I rediscovered a way of making movies that I liked when I was in film school before I got sucked into television,” says 61-year-old Hogg, who didn’t make her directorial debut until 2007. “Unrelated.” “It was making the movie in the movie in the movie — I don’t know how many soffits there are.”
The mirror-like nature of The Souvenir only gets weirder. Tilda Swinton, a longtime friend of the director, starred in Hogg’s original 1986 short film entitled “Caprice.” In The Souvenir Part II, Byrne wears some of her mother’s clothes from that era. After the film’s first screening in Cannes, Swinton said emphatically, “It was a journey.”
Hogg acknowledges that even for her, the line between memory and fiction has blurred. Towards the end of Part II, Julie is interviewed about her college film — a scene that Hogg feels is playing out for herself.
“It almost feels like I’m in a movie talking to you,” Hogg says with a laugh. “We have Julia being interviewed, and she says exactly the words I said in an interview in the late ’80s. It’s too weird. Maybe I’m dreaming. Maybe this is a movie.”
But if there’s still so much unclear to Hogg about her experience completing The Souvenir, which is absolutely straight forward, is that 35 years later she has fully realized herself as a filmmaker.
“I feel more encouraged,” Hogg says. “At first glance I seem quite reserved and a little shy – that’s how I feel anyway. But when it comes to making my work, I’m like a dog with a bone. It’s my lifeblood.”