Thursday, September 17, 2015

Louder Than Bombs

Louder Than Bombs: Devin Druid, Gabriel Byrne.
NO/FR/DK 2015. P: Thomas Robsahm / Motlys, Alexandre Mallet-Guy / Memento Films, Joshua Astrachan / Animal Kingdom, Ron Yerxa & Albert Berger / Bona Fide Productions, Marc Turtletaub. D: Joachim Trier. SC: Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier. DP: Jakob Ihre - negative: 35 mm. PD: Molly Hughes. M: Ola Flottum. S: Gisle Tveito. ED: Olivier Bugge Coutté. C: Gabriel Byrne (Gene Reed), Jesse Eisenberg (Jonah Reed, elder son), Devin Druid (Conrad Reed, younger son), Isabelle Huppert (Isabelle Reed), Amy Ryan (Hannah), Rachel Brosnahan (Erin), Ruby Jerins (Melanie), Megan Ketch (Amy), David Strathairn (Richard). Original in English. 109 min
    Finnish distributor:  SF Film Finland
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Opening Gala
    DCP viewed without subtitles at Bio Rex, 17 Sep 2015

Introduction from the HIFF catalogue and website:

"(…) The title, which, apart from being a reference to the Smiths’ classic compilation album, feels like false advertising for such a quiet film, which is carried along by Ola Flottum’s low, trancelike score, yet is set so far away from the front lines where Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) is out trying to change the world. Your average picture may say a thousand words, but one of Reed’s, snapped in hot zones around the world and routinely landing on page one of the New York Times, is potentially powerful enough to have an almost nuclear effect."

"Obviously, such a career can ruin a person, too, making it impossible to readjust to a society (…). Huppert barely appears in the film, haunting the edges like some sort of ghost, viewed slightly differently by everyone who remembered her (…)."

"For Times colleague Richard Weissman (David Strathairn), Isabelle represents a fallen hero whose memory he seeks to honor by writing an in-depth column timed to coincide with a posthumous retrospective of her work – a story in which he intends to reveal that Isabelle’s death was almost certainly a suicide. For Isabelle’s husband, Gene (Gabriel Byrne), that deadline means having to re-examine his feelings toward his wife, as well as breaking the news to his sulky teenage son, Conrad (…)."

"(…) Conrad relays a lesson learned from his mother, who taught him how changing the framing of a photograph can completely change its meaning – which invites us to reflect on what Trier has cropped out of his own story (…). As conceived, Louder Than Bombs remains a melodrama, but a curiously non-explosive one. The fuses appear to be burning on the inside here, as Trier focuses on the surviving Reeds’ almost tragic inability to connect.

Peter Debruge, Variety

AA: Louder Than Bombs is a film of quality in which Joachim Trier has an assured grip on an intimate family drama which unfolds in alternating time circles. A baby is born and as the young father Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) visits his childhood home we start to learn that his own mother, the famous photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) has died three years ago. Her retrospective exhibition is being prepared, and as Isabelle's long-term colleague (David Strathairn) composes an essay on her for The New York Times we slowly begin to realize that her death maybe was no accident but a suicide. The family has always had difficulties of communication, and they are comically exaggerated between the father Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and the younger son Conrad (Devin Druid). Conrad is almost totally immersed in cyberworld, and when the desperate Gene tries to enter it in a game avatar, it turns out to be a bad idea.

Essentially Louder Than Bombs is a chamber piece. The big world is reflected in Isabelle's career as a photographer, excelling in wars and crises. Her images on Afghanistan are haunting. But while being occupied with the big world she becomes a stranger in her little world.

Louder Than Bombs is character-driven and carried by strong performances by the established stars Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg. Isabelle Huppert makes her flashback role bigger than its size. The revelation is the young Devin Druid in his interpretation of the anxiety of Conrad, a teenager of today. It is a difficult part, and Devin Druid carries it memorably.

When we are first introduced to Conrad he seems impenetrably immersed in his world of portable music, virtual games and internet communication. But he is revealed to have original literary talent. We start to feel that actually Jonah may be the shallower one, judging by his comments on the object of Conrad's attentions, a girl on the sportsfield with her arm in bandage. The shy Conrad genuinely seems to care as we follow his first steps in approaching her. Towards the conclusion the frozen ground of family communication is on its way to melt.

The cinematography has been conducted by Jakob Ehre on 35 mm photochemical film. There is a refined sense of intimacy and an emphasis on faces in two-shots, medium close-ups, close-ups, and extreme close-ups (warts and all as it seems).

No problem with the digital presentation.


Norjan lahjakkaimman nyky-ohjaajan Joachim Trierin englanninkielisessä debyytissä puhuminen ottaa aikansa.

Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) oli kuuluisa sotavalokuvaaja, joka asetti työn perheen edelle. Vanhemmasta pojasta Jonahista (Jesse Eisenberg) tuli kyyninen älykkö. Nuorempi Conrad (Devin Druid) ei ole koskaan kuullut totuutta siitä, miten äiti kuoli.

Elämä ei voi edetä, ennen kuin Gabriel Byrnen esittämä opettaja-isä Gene kääntää katseensa peiliin. Kohtaamisen hetki lähestyy väistämättä, sillä Isabellesta on tulossa New York Timesiin iso artikkeli, jossa kirjoittaja aikoo kertoa vaietun totuuden.

Valokuvassa ei ole kyse vain siitä, mitä siinä näkyy, vaan vähintään yhtä paljon siitä, mitä rajataan ulos. Tämä Isabellen kuvausfilosofinen periaate on myös Joachim Trierin ensimmäisen englanninkielisen elokuvan kaikenkattava teema. Trier antaa katsojan pohtia, mitä hän jättää kertomatta. Näkökulmat vaihtuvat kuin varkain.

Louder Than Bombsin sensibiliteetti on enemmän ranskalainen kuin amerikkalainen, ja tyylissä yhdistyvät Atlantin molempien rantojen ibsenmäisimmät puolet. Jotain estetiikasta kertoo se, että elokuvan nimi on viittaus ohjaajan suosikkiyhtyeen Smithsin kokoelmalevyyn. Perhedraama on kuin hitaasti räjähtävä pommi.

Pekka Lanerva (Rakkautta & Anarkiaa, katalogi ja kotisivu 2015)


An upcoming exhibition celebrating photographer Isabelle Reed three years after her untimely death, brings her eldest son Jonah back to the family house – forcing him to spend more time with his father Gene and withdrawn younger brother Conrad 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.


Tell us the story behind the title. What is it in reference to? Is Louder Than Bombs a war story?

I think we were looking for a title that mirrored the balance between the small and tender pains of family life set up against the great ambitions and experiences of a mother who is working abroad as a war photographer. The incomparability of pain is something which I find intriguing. Of course, it is the title of the band The Smiths’ first American album, a compilation of their songs as they were approaching America for the first time. But the film is about neither war nor The Smiths. I also discovered that The Smiths borrowed the title from the American poet Elizabeth Smart, and her book By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. And I loved that those words had a specifically American provenance as I worked on this film set in the U.S.

What is the origin of the project ?

After my first film Reprise, I got a lot of attention in the US. I started reading many scripts in English, and I had a several offers. I met a lot of interesting people in the American film industry, but I couldn’t find a project that I felt could express what I was concerned with and interested in exploring cinematically. I had a lot of ideas together with screenwriter Eskil Vogt, so it felt more natural to start from scratch than to take on these other scripts. You have to remember that I come from a country with a language that only 5 million people speak, so when I first wanted to make movies it was a natural thing for me to go to film school in London, where I made 3 award winning short films in English. Eskil and I always wanted to make films for an international audience, and it was a rewarding experience to have both Reprise and Oslo, August 31st received so well in many different countries. It was especially rewarding to discover the paradox that it was the cultural specificity that made the films interesting and universal. Learning from that, we did a lot of extensive research on these American settings and characters before venturing into Louder Than Bombs. I honestly believe that more than being defined by your spoken language, as a filmmaker you stylistically create a story in your own cinematic language. Another thing about working in English was the possibility to work with incredible international actors, something that I have wanted to do for a long time. As a film fan from an early age, I grew up watching international films. As a young man it would be a natural occurrence to go to the Cinematheque in Oslo and in the same evening watch a film by Louis Malle from France, Ozu from Japan, or Sidney Lumet from the U.S. Cinema to me has always been about transcending local language barriers.

How familiar were you with working in the US? Tell us your impressions about this American experience.

Of course, shooting in New York, the team was much much bigger than I have ever experienced in Norway. But as a director, your responsibility is always to create a work environment around the camera that fits your story and your actors, so procedurally I went about it as any other previous production. I was able to have real rehearsal time with the actors and tried to achieve the same type of collaborative trust that I’ve been fortunate enough to have on my prior films – it’s of course essential regardless of where you work. And as the shooting proceeded, I looked over at my close collaborator, cinematographer Jakob Ihre, and said: “This is just what we usually do, isn’t it? It’s not so different?” It’s the same challenge as always, trying to take risks, be in the moment, and create a safe working environment, where actors are allowed to explore rather than have to hit the nail on the head every time.

This is also the first time you work with such a large ensemble cast and one of a very prestigious and experienced level... Was this intimidating at all?

Well, making any film can at certain stages feel intimidating. I think all the actors were very generous, so I never felt intimidated. They took their characters seriously, and all contributed to the film in their own personal way, which is all you can hope for.

On Gene played by Gabriel Byrne.

Gene is a portrait of a modern father character. By modern, I mean that he has, at least compared to the classical patriarch, taken on more emotional responsibility at home. He’s become a teacher and given up his career as an actor to be closer to his kids. Gene is trying to keep his family together, but he is struggling to connect with his 15 year old son Conrad, who is engulfed in computer games and an online life, which is difficult to understand for his father. In many ways, this creates some comedic elements as well, like in one scene when Gene tries to create an avatar and venture into an online game to meet his son, with unforeseen consequences. There is something warm and tender about Gene. His strength lies in his ability to see others, but he is grappling to figure out he wants for himself, to figure out what he wants to do with his own life. Gabriel Byrne’s blend of intelligence and warmth was very important to achieve Gene as a character. We spoke about how we were tired of the clichéd portrayals we have seen in so many stories, of the authoritarian father that sons have to prove themselves to. Gene is in many ways unusual in his emotional responsibilities, and Gabriel adds a lot of truth and humour to the character. I think he is the type of actor who responds well to the theme of the film’s story. He really manages to have a bigger perspective on the film.

On Jonah, played by Jesse Eisenberg.

Jonah is a bit of an over-achiever, who feels that he was closer to his mom than anyone else. In many ways, his story is about delayed grief, and how the facade of a young ambitious academic who has just become a father himself crumbles when re-evaluating the image of his mother. Jesse Eisenberg is a precise and incredibly funny actor, and I am grateful that he is exploring a new type of character, perhaps showing a more vulnerable side of himself in the role of Jonah. Jesse in real life is a very smart and creative guy, who is also a great theatre writer, which many people are not aware of. It was inspiring to discuss dramaturgy with him as well as his character.

On Conrad, played by Devin Druid.

Conrad is a shy 15 year old kid, who at the outset of the story seems to have been struck the hardest by the loss of his mother, but as the story progresses, he is in many ways the most surprising of all the characters. I wanted to talk about how a person’s social behaviour often does not represent their inner life, and I tried to find cinematic ways to explore that through this character: showing his emotional life and his romantic side, both in approaching girls and in his strong need to express himself in unexpected ways. Finding someone to play Conrad was perhaps the biggest challenge I foresaw when preparing Louder Than Bombs. Finding Devin Druid was one of the film’s biggest victories. He is just a really great actor, there is not much more to say about it. I am very proud to have had a chance to work with him before everyone soon will discover this great talent.

About photographer Isabelle Reed, played by Isabelle Huppert.

I wanted to talk about family and the cost of ambition, the incredible and admirable work of a conflict journalist set up against an infinite need to be present in in ones family life, a conflict I believe many people can relate to. Isabelle Reed is inspired by several prominent war photographers I have either met or studied, but it is not a story about that profession per se. The story is about parent-child relationships, and the struggles of a family. I have been a fan of Isabelle Huppert for a long time, and I first met her a few years ago at the Stockholm film festival. I stayed in touch with her, and I was thrilled when she accepted to play the mother in our family. Even though she is not the character that is on-screen the most, her presence is always looming in the story as it proceeds. I cannot image any other actor playing this enigmatic and intriguing mother.

Tell us about the photos that represent Isabelle Reed.

I did a lot of research on war photography, even though the film is not about just that. In Oslo, August 31st, the character had a background as a drug addict, but the story is about other parts of his life as they play out. Even though the addiction element was just a backdrop, I wanted to research it and portray it accurately. In the same way, in Louder Than Bombs, I wanted all the details of her life as a war photographer to be presented in an accurate way. We had a lot of support from great photo agencies, such as Magnum and VII. We have used a few different photographers to create Isabelle’s photographic work in the film, amongst them there are many pictures from the French photographer Alexandra Boulat, who is one of those in the field that I admire very much. There is enormous humanity apparent in her pictures, combined with a photographic sensitivity that sets them apart.

The film seems to revolve emotionally around the individual and collective memories of Isabelle. Tell us about this dynamic and also your on-going fascination with focusing on memory in your work.

I find our memories and our idea of self and identity based on these memories fascinating and puzzling. In the film, I try to show the specific process of remembering. I wanted to avoid the type of grief drama where we are there when the mother dies and everyone is sitting around the room crying. Our story happens three years after the mother has passed away, and tracks the domino effect of her tragic death and the implication it has on the three men as they try to move forward in their individual lives. It is interesting how family life forces you to look at yourself and re-evaluate yourself constantly. Why do siblings experience parents so differently? How can you find a shared language, while sometimes needing to break away? There is both despair and hope in memories. During grief, people often describe a feeling of a static, unchanging sense of memory. As I try to show in the film, the constant re-evaluation of who we are gives us the ability to liberate ourselves from these locked ideas. There is a scene where Conrad, the younger brother, remembers a childhood memory of hide-and-seek with his mother. While he thinks about this for the first time in years, he realises the mother’s perspective of the same scene, and how she must have also wanted to play this game, since she obviously would have known where he was hiding all along. Within our personal sense of our own history, there is always a liberating possibility for other perspectives. Therefore I see the sometimes melancholic Louder Than Bombs as ultimately optimistic.

Much of the film is told in non-linear fashion. Tell us about this artistic choice.

These days, a lot of character dramas have emigrated to the tv screens. I am still a strong believer in the unique space of cinema. It is a great place to contemplate human stories. A close-up on a cinema screen is unique. It is an intimate human encounter that you cannot have in any other art form. When do you see a face that large in life? I try to create stories with multiple perspectives, hopefully to gain some sort of insight into these characters’ lives. It is not unusual in a novel to move between time layers and to go inside different characters’ heads within one story. It puzzles me that this is considered such a unusual thing in cinema. The bigger the machine around you gets as a filmmaker, the more it is important to remember that it is fun to experiment with storytelling. Keep the big machine close to your skin. It is only through your personal perspective as a storyteller that you can get close to the audience. It has nothing to do with budget or how many big trailers you are able to have on set. (PRESSBOOK)

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