Louder Than Bombs
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 His brother Conrad (Devin Druid, a decade younger, is a sullen, withdrawn teen who spends his days and nights cocooned in headphones and playing video games.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