Grief resounds in Louder Than Bombs

We spoke to Norwegian director Joachim Trier about his first English-language film, starring Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg.

Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid in Louder Than Bombs

Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs is a strange film, but not in the way one traditionally uses the word “strange” to talk about movies. This isn’t a movie about weirdness, dream sequences, nightmarish non-sequiturs or other Lynchian shorthand for strangeness. Louder Than Bombs is strange because it’s a movie about grief that’s kind of funny, kind of wistful, kind of nervy and operates in tones that I’ve personally never seen utilized in this way. I spoke with director Joachim Trier after the film made its TIFF premiere in September 2015.

“There’s a little bit of a full cycle thing going on,” Trier explains. “I’d won the Discovery award for Reprise and we ended up getting a lot of offers from American producers. The idea was kinda born that way: ‘Okay, it’s time. We should do an American film.’ I wanted to write my own American film — all the stuff I read wasn’t really my thing. And now I’m back here for the third time with the film — my first one in the English language. It’s kinda fun!”

Isabelle Huppert and Gabriel Byrne

It has been three years since celebrated war photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) was killed in a car accident. An upcoming retrospective show brings her grown son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) back to the family home now occupied by his father Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and withdrawn teenage brother Conrad (Devin Druid, probably best known as the teenage Louis CK in Louie). Having just become a father himself, Jonah struggles being back with his family, while Gene attempts to connect with his children and the very different way they remember their late mother.

I ask Trier if he thinks that the story of Louder Than Bombs is a particularly American story — if he could have made the film in his native Norway. “Yes and no,” says Trier. “Yes, it’s a unanimous human thing, in the western world, at least. It’s a parent-child relationship story about how we deal with identity in the family and how memories change. That stuff I’d worked on before, even in my Norwegian films, but there’s something about these characters that I find specifically American. It’s hard to say — I think there are also some thematic things. It’s also a coming-home-from-war story, which America is dealing with. It’s many things at once, but it’s also a movie about a high-level, internationally known war photographer that works for The New York Times.”

The film is also an unglamorous look at parenthood from a man who’s not a parent himself. “We’re dealing with separation and unity as a central theme,” Trier continues. “I’m surrounded by people who, in the last 10 years, have had children. Eskil, my co-writer, has two children. I’m interested in — and I have dealt with this in my previous film — the gaps that happen, even in close relationships. Those things that are hard to name, hard to talk about — the holes in communication and the sense of loneliness that results not because anyone has decided to be the antagonist but because it’s really hard to overcome the discrepancy between the roles you’re often given in a family and who you really are. That whole thing, I think, is endlessly fascinating.”

“I tell the truth how I see it, that’s the only thing I can say,” he says. “I think a lot of these things are kept within. It’s hard to get catharsis in life.” ■

Louder Than Bombs opens at Cinéma du Parc on Friday, April 22. Watch the trailer here: