Marland (Jaygann Ayeh), Garance (Ariane Labed) and Jim (Charlie Heaton) in The Souvenir Part II. Photo by Josh Barrett.

British writer-director Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir (2019) and its follow-up are among the best autobiographical films ever made, comparable to the self-referential masterpieces of her countryman Terence Davies. In them, she taps into the indefinable qualities of memoir and cinema that make these modes so powerful yet often so recondite. The second part of this mesmerizing diptych takes place in the late 80s, with Hogg stand-in Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) mourning the death of her secretive, drug-addicted boyfriend, which occurred at the end of the previous film. She’s searching for answers while reinvesting herself in film school and aspiring to make her thesis project based on her experience with Anthony (Tom Burke, who appears briefly in the most audacious sequence, riffing on the character’s appreciation of Powell and Pressburger). In addition to her emotional pain, Julie contends with the doubts that plague her artistic ambitions. This isn’t just a film about a filmmaker, but a film about filmmaking; the origins of Hogg’s practice, vis-à-vis Julie, are laid bare but remain as enigmatic as ever. Building on her performance in the first part, Swinton Byrne is stunning, conveying with her sheer presence what words alone cannot. The character of Julie’s mother (played by Swinton Byrne’s real-life mother, Tilda Swinton) is more fully realized here, and Swinton, too, is striking in her understated yet impactful performance. Hogg’s artistic choices—from how she composes shots to the film’s excellent soundtrack—formulate something that isn’t easily explained and is fathomable only in the viewing of it. R, 108 min.

Landmark Theatres