A Mouthful of Air (R)
The issue of postpartum depression is a sensitive one, and most especially, needless to say, to the many women who have suffered from the affliction--one of whom is Amy Koppelman, who adapts her acclaimed novel centering on the subject as writer and director. As such, a gentle, understated touch characterizes this tale of children's book author and illustrator Julie (Amanda Seyfried), who, not long after an incident of self-harm soon after the birth of her infant son, finds herself pregnant once again, and thus back in a potentially perilous mental health state. The opening text disclaimer warning that the film covers subjects that could be upsetting to viewers presages Koppelman's overall cautious, and rather self-conscious, approach, for better and for worse. In the former respect, the film never feels exploitative, maneuvering carefully around any overly violent moments, both in the physical sense and a more metaphorical one. Tensions do inevitably flare up between Julie and her husband (Finn Wittrock), mother (Amy Irving), and sister-in-law (Jennifer Carpenter), but any shouty histrionics are avoided, in their place a more grounded and honest emotion that is largely conveyed not in the volume of spoken words but silently eloquent expressions. For what is largely an internal, first-person story, this is an appropriate approach, and Seyfried vividly conveys Julie's fear and anguish under Koppelman and cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco's frequently up-close camera. But Koppelman runs into some difficulty when it comes to fully delving into the unspoken but obviously painful depths of Julie's psyche on film. An attempt to flesh out her inner life with animated interludes that build off of Julie's book illustrations can only go so far in shading in the spaces that Seyfried's script-guided performance, as effective as it is, cannot fill. Short of including an intrusive and lazy running voiceover, one gets the sense by the conclusion that a film version of the story can only skim the surface of the emotional depths that Koppelman expressed and explored in pages of printed prose.
The Souvenir Part II (R)
In this most unusual instance of an arthouse drama sequel, writer/director Joanna Hogg continues the semi-autobiographical story of student filmmaker Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) where 2019's first film ended, with her reeling from the tragic end of her tumultuous romance with an older man who struggled with addiction. To the credit of Hogg and her out-of-the-box creativity and imagination, while in a general narrative sense she picks up where she left off, she most definitely does not in terms of form and execution. This film is expectedly concerned with how Julie processes her emotions about the loss of her love and the impact he has left on her life, but this is no navel-gazing mope climaxing in a cleansing cry. Rather, Julie at once internalizes and externalizes, rarely saying more verbally about her emotional state than what is already written on her face, and channeling her feelings into her thesis film, which she now, much to the consternation of her professors, has reimagined from its original documentary concept (as depicted in the first film) to focus on her love story.
Thus sets up the making-of-a-film-(and, ultimately, film)-within-a-film for most of the run time, and while the whole meta conceit is appropriate and definitely not without fascination and interest, particularly in the performances. Swinton Byrne remains a captivating presence; her reel/real life mother Tilda Swinton radiates steadying warmth; and Richard Ayoade's pompous fellow filmmaker once again steals his scene. The foibles and frustrations of the indie filmmaking process are also good for amusing and observant comedy. But all of this doesn't quite have the resonance for audience than it clearly does for Hogg. The meta approach is intellectually engaging, but not quite emotionally so, keeping the audience locked out on the outside looking in on whatever catharsis Julie and Hogg experience from their creative processes.