First things first. It is not every day that one has the pleasure to watch an international and stellar cast in roles far away from stereotypical. French dark diva Isabelle Huppert plays Isabelle (pictured above), a veteran war correspondent and mother to two boys: Jonah (Hollywood star Jesse Eisenberg) and Conrad (the newcomer Devin Druid). After tragedy struck, Gene (Irish actor and filmmaker Gabriel Byrne) is trying to rebuild his life and to become a more confident father figure. The main characters are engaged in profound and complex conflicts with each other. It is a very emotional tale in which men are expressing their emotions of loss and maladjustment with erratic and irrational behaviour.
This is the first English-spoken feature by the Norwegian director and writer Joachim Trier. The pressure is on because his two previous films Reprise (2006) and Oslo, August 31st (2011) were very successful. Trier’s style obeys a rule: content and format have to be connected on a fundamental level. Louder Than Bombs is told through flashbacks and it is constantly shifting its narrative focus.
It gradually becomes clear through Isabelle’s confessions what is it that is louder than bombs. Her internal conflict as a mother was much intenser than as a war photographer. Here it becomes evident why Huppert was cast as the mother: usually she is not very maternal.
The details of the routine of the three male characters serve to prove that individuality is above the family structure, a very Scandinavian characteristic. Despite being set in the US, the plot has very little related to American family conflicts. Likewise Festen (Thomas Vinterberg, 1998), it comes a moment when this family has to deal with some unpleasant family truths.
The film also touches on the ethical questions about photographing people and their misery. Trier says that he took the subject from Susan Sontag’s book Regarding the Pain of Others, that discusses the representation of other people’s grief and how to convey them without being patronising and vulgar. In this sense, Louder Than Bombs echoes Redacted (Brian de Palma, 2007). The mockumentary reenacts some episodes of the US Army soldiers killings in the Iraq war. The way he portrays the rape of an Iraqi girl and its consequent anti-American sentiment reveal eventually a piece of anti-war propaganda. Both movies question how to broadcast war and pain.
Disillusionment guides the narrative, sometimes there is a sense that the dialogues are too intellectualised and that the film is a little self-conceited. Louder Than Bombs is still an effective movie: in the end it is poetry that speaks louder.
Louder than Bombs is out in cinemas on Friday April 22nd. You can watch the film trailer below: