Cannes Film Festival: Louder Than Bombs

Directed by Joachim Trier
Starring Gabriel ByrneIsabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, David Strathairn and Devin Druid

by Joanna Orland

Louder Than Bombs is an elegant piece of filmmaking.  It is subtle, complex and most of all affective in its storytelling.

Isabelle was a famed war photographer who perished in a car crash years before we meet her family.  While her youngest son still believes the crash to be an accident, the rest of the family are fully aware that Isabelle committed suicide, unable to cope with the horrifying images of war which she spent her life photographing.  When her colleague Richard begins to write an article commemorating her work and the true circumstances of her death, her husband Gene must once again confront his grief, and the grief of his sons as youngest Conrad will have to learn to cope with this new, more upsetting truth.

In Louder Than Bombs, the catalyst of Isabelle’s death happens years before we meet the characters.  Oldest son Jonah has begun a family of his own, with the opening scene a very powerful and human one of him and his wife holding their baby shortly after its arrival into the world.  Gene has moved on by quietly dating a colleague of his, a fellow teacher at the local high school where his youngest son Conrad is also a student.  Conrad is suffering most in the family.  His suffering is mainly in silence as he feels alienated from his father, while tormented by his mother’s death.  Only Jonah seems to be able to connect with Conrad, as much as Gene tries.

While the entire family dynamic and grief coping mechanisms are explored in this touching film, it is Devin Druid’s Conrad who is the anchor, as Conrad keeps Gene and Jonah tied together through common concern, but also through Devin’s empathetic and endearing performance. Devin is a complex teenaged boy.  He keeps to himself, suffers in silence, is immersed in his video games, but also has some amazing quirks including a flair for writing.  His writing provides an intimate view into his inner thoughts to both Jonah and to the audience.

The subject matter is treated with sensitivity, and a story that could otherwise sound clichéd on paper is brought to life in a compassionate, interesting and unique way through Trier’s directorial choices.  Ethereal poetry and imagery are often intercut into scenes in order to convey character emotions, but seamlessly so to avoid such a bold and indulgent move becoming pretentious.

With such common subject matter, Louder Than Bombs feels like no other film of the genre as it requires full audience engagement rather than the act of passively watching a family grieve melodramatically.  The subtle nuances in this film are powerful, and a film that may not be one of the blockbusters of the year somehow packs more punch than its counterparts.

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