Louder Than Bombs

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Oslo, Au­gust 31st) The New York Times, Olive Kit­teridge), Times

In his maiden English-lan­guage ef­fort, Nor­we­gian di­rec­tor Joachim Trier ( ex­plores fam­ily re­la­tion­ships, and the na­ture of fam­ily it­self, com­ing to the con­clu­sion that it’s not for ev­ery­body.

Hov­er­ing over the tan­gled, tor­tured ties of the Reed fam­ily is the de­parted fig­ure of Is­abelle (Is­abelle Hup­pert), the wife and mother who died in a car crash two years ear­lier. Is­abelle was a com­bat pho­tog­ra­pher with a Tim Hether­ing­ton- style ad­ven­turer who thrived on dan­ger and adren­a­line in a ca­reer that took her to the world’s hot spots, where she bore wit­ness to suf­fer­ing and dodged bombs. But the si­lences in her fam­ily’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions res­onate louder and in­flict deeper wounds than the ex­plo­sions that left her phys­i­cally scarred.

Is­abelle was prob­a­bly some­body for whom fam­ily was never a good idea. But she mar­ried and had two chil­dren. The older, Jonah ( Jesse Eisen­berg), is now in his mid-twen­ties, a col­lege pro­fes­sor, a brand-new fa­ther, and a man al­ready em­bark­ing on prob­lems in his own mar­riage. His brother Con­rad (Devin Druid, a decade younger, is a sullen, with­drawn teen who spends his days and nights co­cooned in head­phones and play­ing video games. Their fa­ther, Gene (Gabriel Byrne), was an ac­tor when he and Is­abelle mar­ried, but he’s given it up to be­come a high-school teacher and the nur­tur­ing par­ent who sees his spouse off on her as­sign­ments, and hopes she’ll come back.

A gallery ret­ro­spec­tive of Is­abelle’s pho­tog­ra­phy pro­vides the os­ten­si­ble oc­ca­sion for the com­ing to­gether of the story threads. A for­mer col­league of Is­abelle’s (David Strathairn) is writ­ing a piece on her life and ca­reer for the pa­per to mark the event, and he warns Gene that he will have to re­veal that her death was a sui­cide. Why he has to do this is un­clear, as that in­ter­pre­ta­tion of her fa­tal car crash seems any­thing but cer­tain. Gene has never di­vulged the sui­cide to Con­rad, who is screwedup enough with­out that in­for­ma­tion, but with her story about to hit the front page, it’s time for a fa­ther-son heart-to-heart. Ex­cept that Con­rad won’t talk to his fa­ther.

Trier’s movie is set in Westch­ester, but it some­times feels more like Nor­way. The di­rec­tor lay­ers his story with jumps of time and char­ac­ters’ points of view, so it can be a chal­lenge to keep up with where we are and why. The tech­nique can be an­noy­ing, and the nar­ra­tive is strewn with im­prob­a­bles, but Trier and his ca­pa­ble cast keep it in­ter­est­ing.

In a story shad­owed by a de­parted loved one, a lot is re­vealed in flash­back, and one of those mem­o­ries has Is­abelle ex­plain­ing to Con­rad that the im­pact of a pho­to­graph can be shaped by crop­ping. What is edited out can be as telling as what is left in. — Jonathan Richards

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