Cannes 2015: Norwegian Joachim Trier forgets to stop in ‘Louder than Bombs’ (review)

After the abstract “Oslo, August 31st “, Joachim Trier makes his first English-speaking film and strays into verbosity, until at least he learns the language.

“Louder Than Bombs”’s central idea is extremely simple: a family, a father and two sons, is trying to face the loss of their wife and mother who died a few years earlier in a car accident. This is what Joachim Trier of  “Reprise and “Oslo, August 31st” chooses to be the topic of his first English-language film, filmed in New York, with a famous international cast: Gabriel Byrne, Jessie Eisenberg, Devin Druid, David Strathairn, Amy Ryan and Isabelle Huppert in the role of the mother.

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There are plenty of ways for this emblematic thematic core, used in hundreds of films over the decades, to be made into a film. Trier chooses the most multilayered both visually and scriptwise: the eldest son has just become a father and he too, terrified, abandons his wife temporarily. The youngest son, still in his puberty, goes through a dark introspection, with violent outbursts towards his Dad, while falls in love for the first time. The father is seeing his son’s teacher in secret. The dead mother  comes back in their lives either through dreams, or flash backs, or a few extremely impressive, but incongruous with the rest of the film imaginary scenes with gorgeous special effects. The dead mother used to be a famous photographer and war correspondent, so the horror of victims in Afghanistan have also a part in the film along with the suspicions that before she died she had a love affair with a colleague of hers. A bunch of people related by blood or not cover each other with lies, in relationships that don’t lack love, but communication.

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As in his previous films, the Norwegian director – here co-writing with Eskil Vogt of the film “Blind” – has an amazing ability to observe: to give time to silences, looks and movements of his heroes and fill the silent, empty scenes with atmosphere and content, in a particularly charming way. Without any outbursts, or heavy one-liners, he diffuses a faint melancholic and reflective light in his scenes, presenting the viewers with enigmatic elements regarding the heroes’ personalities and allowing them to gradually understand these enigmas, solve them, feel them.

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However, Trier passes from one element to another, traveling between heroes, reality, memory and imagination without economy and continues leaving each previous element to fade. There is an abstraction in the frames as well as a strange, dreamy depiction of everyday reality, immersed in thought and grief. The heroes themselves feel familiar and likable, at least initially, people who we want to see in their effort to chase away depression and to live in harmony. The actors are wonderful, from Isabelle Huppert in the key role of the mother to the “boys” who are struggling with their logic. However, their stories lose their track and end up in deadends, through unnecessary wanderings and repeated turns, decorated and overloaded, only to reach an obvious conclusion for which there was a shortcut. It may be the creative stage fright caused by the first work outside a familiar environment or it may be just a wordy slip. But in “Louder Than Bombs”, Joachim Trier may have spoken beautifully but he also spoke a lot!

Read more of our Cannes 2015 reviews here.