Louder Than Bombs (2015)
Most coming-of-age films lean on the romantic comedy or melodrama for shape and structure, usually with a linear storyline that leads to a metaphorical awakening or some other resolution. As you might expect from a Norwegian director, Louder than Bombs (2015) avoids this well-trodden approach by telling a multi-layered fractured tale that looks more like a thriller than a teen-drama. Adolescents who clam-up tightly to exclude the world while they catch up with its emotional challenges are common stories. The one in this film is like a bomb about to explode and his story forms the narrative spine along which several sub-plots radiate in all directions.
Conrad is an introspective young war-gamer who has closed off to the world since his famous war photographer mother Isabelle was killed three years ago. He keeps to himself at school and defiantly ignores his well-meaning ex-TV star father. A photo exhibition is planned to commemorate Isabelle’s work and a former colleague plans an article that will reveal the secret truth of Isabelle’s suicide. Conrad has been shielded from this truth, as well as from the affairs of his father and brother. Over-protection has increasingly isolated him until he tries to connect with a girl in class. It’s a complex non-liner plotline with several flashbacks that shift across narrative lines to create the visual effect of a perfect storm of fractured people. Isabelle’s war images and her memory keep appearing but the battle we are seeing is raging in the minds of those she left behind who struggle to move on with their lives.
The film has an unsettling asymmetrical style about it. You find it in the withholding of truths, in the gender inversion of a war zone mother and a TV soapies father, and in hair-trigger Conrad lashing out in all directions. While the acting is often melodramatic, the filming is edgy with sharp editing cuts and sudden discordant images that feel out of context (like tumbling aerial schoolgirls). It has an uneven but reflective pace that disorients the viewer and leaves them uncertain how the story can hold together. But through the foggy mess of their lives appears hope for better times. More arthouse than spoon-fed, the film feels refreshingly free of cliches and leaves you thinking about the impact of distant memories on daily lives.
Director: Joachim Trier
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Devin Druid
(Preview courtesy of Andrew Urban of Movies Now)