LOUDER THAN BOMBS
An upcoming exhibition celebrating war photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) three years after her untimely death in a car crash, brings her eldest son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) back to the family house - forcing him to spend more time with his father Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and withdrawn younger brother Conrad (Devin Druid) than he has in years. With the three of them under the same roof, Gene tries desperately to connect with his two sons, but they struggle to reconcile their feelings about the woman they remember so differently.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Of the various themes explored in this complex story, Joachim Trier's fascination with the way our memories are manipulated by our unconscious is the most interesting. Trier tries to cram several other elements into the screenplay he co-wrote with Eskil Vogt, ranging from the challenges of a war photographer/journalist to the guilt of infidelity, not to mention grief and loss.
The structure of assembling the past around the present is the film's outward show of its inner intent, with assiduous editing that weaves the time frames as well as divergent memories together as well as any film can. It's not really possible, but nothing can replicate the complexity and shape-shifting abilities of the human mind.
The linkage of terrible war provides global scale to the disruption of domestic life, an idea Norwegian born Trier massages in his English language debut - and gives us plenty of subtext to discuss after the film's melancholy but optimistic ending.
Trier is exceptionally well served by a cast of character actors who all make an artform out of minimalism. Devin Druid is perhaps the most mesmerizing as the youngest son Conrad, a withdrawn, sensitive and lost teenager whose inability to manage his emotional conflicts provide the film's dramatic energy.
Jesse Eisenberg is a surprisingly effective older brother, superficially capable new father; the two brothers emotional arcs cross during the film. Gabriel Byrne is effective as the widow whose equilibrium has never recovered, and whose deep hurt is compounded by revelations that confirm his doubts.
The story pivots on Isabelle Huppert's character, the war photographer cum artist whose work divides her in two personas: one at work in Afghanistan, one at home in upstate New York. Her expressive face - indulged with one of the longest still close ups I have experienced in cinema - lends itself to the myriad emotions that flow through her character as the emotional explosions go off in and around her life, louder than bombs.
Review by Louise Keller:
It plays like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces are scattered before they come together, this internal, complex film about realities and perspectives. War, purpose and grief are the main themes; the players are members of a family conflicted by loss. In his English language debut, Norwegian director Joachim Trier brings a thoughtful essay on the impact on war, those who illustrate it and how it impacts on them and their families. The central performances are strong as is the through line; the film plays like a mystery in which all the little details provide clues. Concentration is required to get the most out of Trier's film; the more attention you pay to the myriads of details revealed, the more you will get out of it.
The fractured nature of the family is immediately apparent, when we meet Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and his two sons Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) and Conrad (Devin Druid) as they deal with the aftermath of their mother Isabelle's (Isabelle Huppert) death. Trier introduces us to each character from different perspectives, playing with time so that it is up to us to place what happens in sequence, in order to make sense of it. In the opening scene, we see the tiny hand of a newborn baby, with its instinctive responses. Also instinctive are the lies that spill from the mouth of the baby's father Jonah. But he is not the only flawed character.
The task of portraying the face of war through the lens of a camera is the burden that Isabelle has assumed as her key purpose in life, embarking on endless trips to war zones. We learn about Isabelle, her attitudes towards her work, her relationships and difficulties to readapt to family life. Conrad, who lives in an imaginative world filled with macabre imagery learns from her that the meaning of a photo is changed by its framing. In the same way, Trier constantly changes the frame of his story and perspective, as the film unravels.
Byrne delivers one of his best performances as Gene, who struggles to communicate with his family; he is the pivot around which the other characters revolve. Huppert uses her expressive face to portray emotion - to great effect. Eisenberg depicts duality with ease, while Druid is impressive as Conrad, the troubled teen trying to avoid reality. Watch out for David Strathairn, terrific as the war correspondent about to write a revealing feature story.
This is a film filled with layers - there is much to contemplate in its wake.
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LOUDER THAN BOMBS (M)
CAST: Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, Davin Druid, Amy Ryan, Ruby Jerins, Megan Ketch, David Strathairn, Rachel Brosnahan, Russell Posner
PRODUCER: Joshua Astrachan, Albert Berger, Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Thomas Robsahm, Marc Turtletaub, Ron Yerxa
DIRECTOR: Joachim Trier
SCRIPT: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jakob Ihre
EDITOR: Oliver Bugge Coutte
MUSIC: Ola Flottum
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Molly Hughes
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 2016