Loud bombs, quiet triumph

Louder Than Bombs

FilmScene — through Thursday, May 19

Video still from Louder than Bombs
Video still from Louder than Bombs

“When a ghost shows up,” says Swamplandia author Karen Russell, “there is something to be done.”

When Isabelle’s ghost returns on the eve of her memorial retrospective, it is clear that for her husband and sons, there is much to be done.

Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert), photojournalist, wife and mother, is dead. Though she wore scars from blasts and bombs, her life did not end overseas amid the hazards of the field, but in a head-on car accident near her home in Nyack, NY.

Years later, a New York gallery plans a retrospective of her war photography. A feature about her life is forthcoming in The New York Times. Before the article is to go to print, however, the author of the piece (a colleague of the deceased photographer) explains to her widower Gene (Gabriel Byrne) that he plans to tell the truth about the circumstances of her death.

“They know what really happened right?” he asks.

Gene reluctantly admits that although his oldest son, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg), knows, the youngest, Conrad (Devin Druid), is unaware that his mother in fact committed suicide when she jerked the wheel into an oncoming semi truck.

Jonah’s wife Amy has just given birth to their first child, named for her late grandmother. Immediately following his daughter’s birth he returns home under the guise of helping his father prepare for his mother’s show. Instead he finds himself fleeing from his role as father and husband and seeking refuge in bottles and the beds of old lovers.

The tension is suffocating in the house Gene shares with his son Conrad. Communication is nearly impossible, with Gene going to such lengths as creating a video game avatar in the hopes of reaching his son through an online game. He is unable to tell his son the truth about the boy’s mother, let alone the truth about the relationship he is carrying on with Conrad’s English teacher.

And there’s Conrad — estranged from his father and classmates, lost in longing for romance and lost in dreams of his mother.

Video still from Louder than Bombs
Video still from Louder than Bombs

To achieve sentiment without mucking around in sentimentality, to evoke pathos while avoiding the maudlin, to feel moved by a work of art and not to be manipulated by it, are experiences that are regretfully all too uncommon. Joachim Trier’s (Oslo, August 31) English language debut however, meets all of these marks and goes further; a meditation on loss becomes an object of beauty, and as in any creation of the beautiful, holds with it the promise of new life.

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In a well crafted film narrative, one may clearly observe a character undergo a transformation. In encountering a film such as Louder than Bombs though, it is the viewer who leaves transfigured.