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Louder Than Bombs | Review

Another Time, Another Place: Trier’s Graceful, Quiet English Language Debut

Louder than Bombs PosterNorwegian director Joachim Trier reteams with his regular scribe Eskil Vogt for Louder Than Bombs, their third collaboration and first English language production. Basically a familial drama infused with several of their favored motifs, they’ve defused the general sense of melodrama usually displayed in these types of films, at least those often manufactured in suburban angst American cinema, focusing on the nuance of its characters rather than painting large painful portrayals of a family attempting to heal following a tragedy. If the result tends to be a bit muted, its emotionally authentic characters are at least handled admirably and honestly.

After her accidental death in a car crash three years ago, a major exhibition of conflict photographer Isabelle Reed’s (Isabelle Huppert) work is about to be launched. Her colleague Richard (David Strathairn) is going to write an extensive piece in the New York Times to commemorate her prior to the exhibition, and he consults Isabelle’s husband, Gene (Gabriel Byrne) to convey he will be discussing the fact she committed suicide in the article. Accepting Richard’s request, Gene is assisted by their older son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg), who leaves behind his wife and newborn child to help his father sift through his mother’s material from her last shoot for the exhibition. Jonah disagrees with Gene’s wish to finally reveal to younger adolescent brother Conrad (David Druid) the nature of their mother’s death, seeing as Conrad has had significant difficulty adjusting to their mother’s absence.

The project is Trier’s first since 2011’s Oslo, August 31st, and much like the protagonists in his earlier films, the rippling effects of obsessive, addictive behaviors on friends and family are explored, once more tinged with suicide. But “Bombs” manages to feel differently than his earlier titles, its characters a bit more hopeful in their trajectories. The film’s more enigmatic first half tends to feel a bit more mysterious, as if we’re sifting through the actual rubble of their lives.

We meet Gene and his two sons at the end of their shellshock over the sudden death of Isabelle, faced with the dilemma of having to reveal to the younger, increasingly troubled son Conrad the truth surrounding his mother’s death. Shards and slivers of information are revealed about each of them, and we learn that Isabelle was having an affair with her colleague, something Gene may have been aware of for some time. Fantasy sequences involving Conrad’s reconstruction of his mother’s car accident play out in beautiful slow-motion sequences. Vogt and Trier also inject a bit of additional unnecessary magical realism on Conrad’s part, sequences brought on randomly and not quite cohesive with the film’s sobering take on guilt and the necessity of communication.

The performances are all routinely solid here, particularly Byrne, newcomer Devin Druid, and, of course, Isabelle Huppert as the ghost haunting them all. Eisenberg is thankfully not called on to deliver his usual impression of the pretentious academic, portraying a character suddenly sucked into his own personal dilemma at home, avoiding the responsibility of tending to his wife and newborn child as he relives the period of his mother’s death. The focus is instead placed on Conrad, involving instances both hurtful, including a situation with the teacher played quietly by a lovely Amy Ryan, and stereotypically, such as the crush he’s developed on a moronic cheerleader.

By the time we get to the final frames, some may find the absence of a more daring narrative to result in an underwhelming finale, yet Trier manages to maintain a graceful portrayal of acceptance and healing.

Reviewed on May 17 at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival – Main Competition. 109 Mins.

★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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