Directed by Joachim Trier; written by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt
Motlys/Memento Films/Nimbus, 2015
Filming was completed in October, 2014
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, Devin Druid, Rachel Brosnahan, Amy Ryan, and David Strathairn
World Premiere as part of the Official Competition at Festival de Cannes May 18, 2015
North American Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival September, 2015
Norway Release October 2, 2015
Released in the USA April, 2016
Break the silence.
An upcoming exhibition celebrating photographer Isabelle Reed three years after her untimely death, brings her eldest son Jonah back to the family house – forcing him to spend more time with his father Gene and withdrawn younger brother Conrad than he has in years. With the three of them under the same roof, Gene tries desperately to connect with his two sons, but they struggle to reconcile their feelings about the woman they remember so differently.–IMDB
Three years after her unexpected death, the preparation of an exhibition celebrating the famous war photographer Laura Freed brings her husband and their two sons together for the first time in years. When an unsettling secret resurfaces, the three men are forced to look at each other and themselves in a new light, redefining their innermost needs and desires. A rich picture of the family’s dreams, disappointments and secrets is gradually developed through non-linear fragments of shared memories, daily challenges and strained attempts to coexist. With his signature hypnotic, yet often jolting and exhilarating storytelling pulse, Joachim Trier weaves a tapestry of cherry-picked details and dreamscapes, combining arresting imagery with a relentless exposure of human nature.–Memento Films website
On the eve of an exhibition honoring noted war photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert), whose career was cut short in the wake of her untimely death, a father and two sons grapple with her domestic and professional legacy. Flashbacks of Isabelle’s conflated role of wife, mother and photojournalist intermingle with the present-day attempts of the Reeds to manage their grief amid combat of a different kind. Family patriarch Gene (Gabriel Byrne) discovers secrets about his late spouse while pursuing a new romance and struggling to connect with teenage son Conrad (Devin Druid), who hides in video games and introspection. Adult son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) takes leave from academic and married life to organize his mother’s archive, only to slip into reckless behavior. Past and present coalesce in sharp focus as the surviving Reeds come to terms with love and loss – locating in memories both painful and joyous the skills they need to soldier on…–Rotten Tomatoes
JOACHIM TRIER ON GENE PLAYED BY GABRIEL BYRNE
Gene is a portrait of a modern father character. By modern, I mean that he has, at least compared to the classical patriarch, taken on more emotional responsibility at home. He’s become a teacher and given up his career as an actor to be closer to his kids. Gene is trying to keep his family together, but he is struggling to connect with his 15 year old son Conrad, who is engulfed in computer games and an online life, which is difficult to understand for his father. In many ways, this creates some comedic elements as well, like in one scene when Gene tries to create an avatar and venture into an online game to meet his son, with unforeseen consequences. There is something warm and tender about Gene. His strength lies in his ability to see others, but he is grappling to figure out what he wants for himself, to figure out what he wants to do with his own life. Gabriel Byrne’s blend of intelligence and warmth was very important to achieve Gene as a character. We spoke about how we were tired of the clichéd portrayals we have seen in so many stories, of the authoritarian father that sons have to prove themselves to. Gene is in many ways unusual in his emotional responsibilities, and Gabriel adds a lot of truth and humour to the character. I think he is the type of actor who responds well to the theme of the film’s story. He really manages to have a bigger perspective on the film.
Los Angeles Times/Mark Olsen: Indie Focus–Norway’s Joachim Trier shakes things up with his English-language film ‘Louder Than Bombs’
Trier’s interest in formal experimentation does not mean he is not also invested in the emotions and performances in his films. It is his interest in drama that drew actors such as Huppert, Byrne and Eisenberg, who worked around his shooting schedule for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” to be in Trier’s movie.
“That’s what makes him a really interesting director,” said Byrne. “It could have been a sentimental film, it could have been an angry film, it could have been an unsettling film about the ghost of a woman haunting a family. But it’s shot through with the reality, an understanding of the various stages and complexities of grief. Life goes on in the most mundane ways. He captures how grief fractures within a family, the anger, the withdrawal, the deceit, the loneliness, the inevitability.”
Then we have, Gabriel Byrne. I agree with you who is a great actor. He is so humble, yet so precise. He always said to me, “You know I’m not really an actor. I never went to school in that way and I just do it and, I don’t know…” He is very very humble, but if you get him in front of the camera he’s always interesting. And he is a thinking man. He could be silent and observing and you go, what’s he thinking? That’s a great gift for an actor. He also takes a carer’s responsibility. He is a very natural father in this family because he is very kind and gentle in real life.
One thing I loved about his character is that he is not a typical patriarchal father you see. You don’t see that in American films often.
You see, men can also be carers. It is very important and I’m glad you bring it up because for this film, I think many men would stay away from this role. I think there is a slight prejudice. Yes, we can discuss the very important issue of letting women play many different roles. In real life women play many more roles in society. I am a feminist and I believe in that absolutely. Very important. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight, at the same time, for men to be allowed to play different roles as well. We are all struggling existentially with being restricted, continually, in having to live up to expectations which don’t make us feel that we are allowing ourselves to be more than we could, you know, or be what we can be.
Gene’s story is not about patriarchy, playing the role of the authoritarian father. It’s about playing the role many mothers have played, as the carer, the one that ultimately is the pivot of the family. And he is the only one for the children to be present at the same time being pushed away, because this idealized mother is no longer around. So that’s very much Gabriel.
quotes from the film
Richard: So, when I write this article, I don’t think I can avoid mentioning how she died. That it wasn’t really an accident.
Gene: Yeah. So, are you saying that you want to write that she killed herself?
Richard: Gene, I don’t want to be a part of romanticizing what we do. Isabelle wouldn’t either. This is hard. It takes a toll. And I don’t have to tell you–it was hard on her.
Gene: I was just wondering what time you were coming home.
Gene: I’m making tacos.
Conrad: Yeah, I’m kinda busy right now, Dad. I’ll talk to you later.
Gene: What are you playing? Are you the girl?
Conrad: It’s a sorceress.
Gene: A what?
Conrad: I play other characters, too.
Gene: You know that meeting I had this morning? Well, Richard was there. You remember Richard, don’t you? He’s gonna be writing this article and it just reminded me that there was some stuff that you and I, we just need to talk about. Can you turn that off? Just put it on pause…Conrad, can you please turn that off?
Conrad: Get out! Get the fuck out.
Gene: Don’t you speak to me like that. I’m just trying to talk to you!
Isabelle: All I could think was this will destroy me. My life will never be the same.
Gene: You make it sound like that might be a good thing.
Gene: Why are you telling me all this?
Isabelle: I’m just wondering what it means.
Gene: Do you want me to tell you what it means? OK. You think that I’m passive and boring or something like that, but really you’re bored because you’re hanging around the house all day and you want to pick a fight with me.
Isabelle: Interesting. Did it touch a nerve?
Gene: Yeah, it did touch a nerve, if you don’t mind me saying so. This guy, who’s sitting there, not saying anything, just watching.
Gene: We could still let the agency deal with this.
Jonah: We can’t give this to the gallery people. I want to go through everything first…Listen, Dad, Mom was so protective of her stuff…We don’t even know what we’d be giving them.
<Conrad shares a picture with Gene and Jonah in the dark room>
Jonah: Yes, we wouldn’t want this to fall in the wrong hands, would we?! What are we even looking at here? This is your head shot? People saw this and said: “Yes, we would like him!”? What is that look on your face? You look like you’re about to murder somebody!
Gene: Turn it over.
<The photo was taken by Isabelle, long ago>
Gene: She kept it because she though it was a really good photograph of me. My agent thought my good looks would hamper a serious acting career. <he grins>
Gene: I’ve got two boys. The eldest is finishing his PhD in sociology.
Hannah: That’s impressive.
Gene: Yeah, and he’s gonna be teaching next year and his wife is pregnant, which means I’m gonna be a grandfather. I can’t believe it.
Gene: Thank you. <voiceover> Aw, why the hell did he have to mention that? She was probably thinking of her grandfather now, the odor of tobacco and urine, phones with large dials, dying slowly of throat cancer.
Jonah: He’s not doing that well. I don’t think you should tell him what you told me last night.
Gene: I don’t know. Don’t you think he deserves to know the truth?
Jonah: The truth? What is the truth? Some story that Richard want to write, is that the truth? He’s gonna make her out to seem like some depressed person.
Gene: No, I don’t think he will. But she was depressed. You know that, right?
Isabelle: You’re lucky.
Gene: Oh, yeah? Why am I lucky?
Isabelle: Because you’ve got everything you want in one place.
Gene: Except you.
Isabelle: Except me.
Gene: I’ve got this feeling lately. I can’t really explain it, but I feel that every time you go away, I half expect that you’re not gonna come back.
Isabelle: I understand. It’s normal.
Gene: Is it?
Isabelle: After this, I slow down. I promise.
Gene (to Isabelle): Do you hear what you’re saying? Do you hear how selfish that is? No, it’s our life! It’s our family’s life! Me and those two boys.
Gene (to Conrad): Is it difficult for you to talk to me? I mean, we don’t always have to agree about everything, but I think it’s really important that you and I are able to talk to each other.
Film Journal International/Chris Barsanti [This publication is no longer available on the Internet]
Trier’s last film, the jittery and downbeat addict drama Oslo, August 31st, was also engaged in characters with these kind of passively self-destructive and dark trajectories. But the intersections are more sharply hinged in this film, and acted out with a uniform excellence. Although every actor here plays to their strengths, from Huppert’s Biblical prophetess to Ryan’s fulsome decency to Eisenberg’s stiletto selfishness, it’s Byrne who carries the film. More often than not relegated to roles that play off his romantically dour visage, Byrne finally gets paired with a director who effectively channels his more openhearted and benevolent side. Emotionally stunted as Byrne’s Gene is, that’s no more the case than with any of the rest of these teachers and students and artists. His clumsy attempts to bring his estranged sons closer, at the same time that he’s unwinding himself from Isabelle’s dark embrace, are powerfully affecting.
PopMatters/Amanda Gilroy: ‘Louder Than Bombs’ Is Rich With Visual Poetry
Joachim Trier’s English language debut plays with time and multiple perspectives to offer a lyrical meditation on the nature of grief
The film poses questions: What is our responsibility to telling their story? Can we tell it the way they might have and not appropriate it for ourselves? As we look at Isabelle’s famous photo of a group of men mourning over the dead body of a young boy, we also see that her husband and sons seem immobilized by their grief.
We come to care about these survivors, in part because monologues and voiceovers connect us with their interior lives. Gabriel Byrne gives a moving, understated performance as Isabelle’s husband Gene, trying to protect and communicate with his youngest son Conrad (Devin Druid) while engaging in a clandestine relationship with the boy’s teacher (Amy Ryan). Troubled by memories that foreground his ineffectuality and unfocused guilt, Gene also represses what he knows.
The A. V. Club/A. A. Dowd: The truths land Louder Than Bombs in this stylish, sensitive family drama
Gene, meanwhile, dips his toes back into the waters of romance, carrying on a secret relationship with one of Conrad’s teachers (Amy Ryan); the film introduces their courtship through a memory that Byrne narrates in second person—just one of many ways that Trier invigorates ordinary exposition. Gene also makes a few ill-fated attempts to really talk to Conrad (an experiment with connecting through the kid’s favorite pastime, Elder Scrolls, fails spectacularly), but the two can’t seem to get a handle on each other: There’s a great early sequence of the father creeping around town and spying on his son, which Trier then replays from the opposite point of view, to emphasize the lack of understanding between the two. Of course, Conrad, like a lot of young men his age, lives chiefly in his own head, and Louder Than Bombs visualizes his complex interior world, showing us how his mind wanders from a classmate crush (Ruby Jerins) to speculative visions of his mother’s death and back again.
Just about every performance here is understated, with Byrne—an actor probably best known for playing cold Irish gangsters—conveying more vulnerability than he maybe ever has, while Druid proves that the naturalism he exhibited as a young Louis CK was no fluke…
David Thomson at The Guardian’s Film Blog: How Louder than Bombs dares to discuss some of our stickiest relationships
You should see Louder Than Bombs. You may not share my hesitation with Huppert – it’s always easy to be carried away by her. You may decide that the film is a touch too quiet and convoluted for its own good. You are going to be on your own. But I have seen this film a few times and I can’t get its family cluster out of my head – which probably means that it has revealed something I half knew already. Trier has been stronger or clearer before (Reprise and Oslo, August 31st), and he will be better yet, I think. He is a major director, a novelist on film. And consider this: a Norwegian went to America, and understood its disquiet better than most American directors. “Is it difficult for you to talk to me?” a father asks a son. What did we expect?
Louder Than Bombs had its World Premiere as part of the Official Competition at Festival de Cannes May 18, 2015.
Portrait at Cannes 2015
dvd and more
Back Home (the title for Louder Than Bombs in France) is available on DVD now at Amazon.fr, with audio in both English and French.
The movie’s original score is composed by Ola Flottum (Force Majeure, Reprise, Oslo, August 31st). The soundtrack also includes cuts from several songs, including works by Beck and Tangerine Dream.
Available for download and with samples at Amazon
Available on Spotify (where you can listen to several tracks for free)
1. Love on a Real Train (Rerecorded) – Tangerine Dream
2. Hungry, So Angry – Medium, Medium
3. Chemtrails – Beck
4. Rock the Box – Sylvester
5. Open – Com Truise
6. Over You – Torae & Wes
7. Do You Believe – Supreme Jubilees
8. Manhattan Jungle – Per Tjernberg
9. Conrad’s Dream – Gisle Tveito
10. This or That – Kåre Christoffer Vestrheim
11. Chopin: Nocturne No. 20 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. Posth – Cristina Ortiz
12. Bach: Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067 – Four Centuries of Bach & John Abberger
13. Walking with Melanie – Ola Fløttum
14. Following – Ola Fløttum
15. Levitation – Ola Fløttum
16. Isabelle Documentary – Ola Fløttum
17. New York Times – Ola Fløttum
18. JFK – Ola Fløttum
19. Damaskus – Ola Fløttum
20. Looking for Conrad – Ola Fløttum
21. Home – Ola Fløttum
22. Louder Than Bombs – Ola Fløttum
In one of the several trailers for the film, the song Glas/Green, by Solomon Grey, is featured.
behind the scenes
Gabriel Byrne with director Joachim Trier on set for one of the earlier scenes in the film
from the Making Of… featurette
Gabriel Byrne: Apart from the theme of grief, the film is also an examination of family and what it means to be a father, to be a son, to be a wife, to be a husband.
It also deals with the passage of time, I think. One of the things that I think the film plays into is the notion of memory. How do you remember things?
The photograph of Gabriel Byrne we see in the “dark room” scene, with Gene, Jonah, and Conrad, is a well-known still of Mr. Byrne from the film Hanna K, directed by Costa-Gavras in 1983.
The movie clip Conrad and Jonah watch on the computer in Conrad’s room is from Hello Again, with Shelley Long, from 1987.
Amy Ryan appears as Hannah, Gene’s lover, in the film. In 2010, Ms. Ryan portrayed Adele, Paul Weston’s therapist, in Season 3 of In Treatment.
When Gene, a high school teacher, visits his classroom briefly in the film, the whiteboard displays a discussion topic on the book Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.
origin of the film’s title
From the film’s production notes:
TELL US THE STORY BEHIND THE TITLE. WHAT IS IT IN REFERENCE TO? IS LOUDER THAN BOMBS A WAR STORY?
I think we were looking for a title that mirrored the balance between the small and tender pains of family life set up against the great ambitions and experiences of a mother who is working abroad as a war photographer.
The incomparability of pain is something which I find intriguing. Of course, it is the title of the band The Smiths’ first American album, a compilation of their songs as they were approaching America for the first time. But the film is about neither war nor The Smiths. I also discovered that The Smiths borrowed the title from the American poet Elizabeth Smart, and her book By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. And I loved that those words had a specifically American provenance as I worked on this film set in the U.S.
Poster signed by everyone at Cannes 2015
T-shirts on display at Cannes 2015
Emoji reaction to the film at Cannes 2015
Cats enjoy this film, too. wink
Many thanks to my friend in the film business who provided Cannes 2015 updates!