Louder than Bombs is the ambitious English-language debut from Norwegian director Joachim Trier. Some years after the mysterious death of war photographer Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) an impending exhibition in tribute to her life and work brings unanswered questions and unaccepted answers to the surface for bereaved husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and sons Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) and Conrad (Devin Druid).
The intriguing premise provides the groundwork for a fragmented and postmodern story which, as part drama, part thriller, and part high-school movie, transcends genre but ultimately delivers an unsatisfying conclusion.
Like François Ozon’s In the House (2012), Louder than Bombs manifests unreliable narration in cinematic form, though it lacks the earlier film’s dark wit and satirical bite. Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt play with point of view, presenting some moments from multiple perspectives to destabilise the concept of truth. A jigsaw-like narrative is assembled; layers of potential significations are built up yet the film refuses to commit to just one. This provokes interest but also frustration, as by the end of the runtime the film still feels partial and incomplete.
The narrative’s concern with distorted information and interpretation – in forms such as dreams and memories – is aptly echoed in a visual motif of reflections, and also chimes with Isabelle’s artistic and political ambition to truthfully express experience and emotion in her photographs. Although some excellent and evocative photography is showcased, Louder than Bombs could fruitfully have explored this connection between its characters’ past and present in order to make a larger point about modes of representation and their implications. Instead, the most interesting element is the arc of Isabelle and Gene’s youngest son Conrad, despite a phenomenally (yet appropriately) expressionless performance from Druid.
Although Trier and Vogt’s screenplay does an admirable job of conveying the weight of emotions and nuances of each familial relationship – most touchingly between the two brothers – there are many inconsequential occurrences which contribute to the overwhelming sense of unfulfilled potential. This is an intelligent and intimate time-lapse glance at a family which gives you the feeling of staying in someone’s home for a few days and observing not only their present but also their collective history. Louder than Bombs’ frequent use of flashback is akin to flicking through a stranger’s photo album – a further way in which we receive only part of a story.