Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s English-language debut tells of a dysfunctional family’s inability to cope with their matriarch’s suicide. An esteemed war photographer, Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) divides her existence between the world’s battlefields and a bright suburban house inhabited by her husband and two sons. When she kills herself, the household disintegrates and the mourners are haunted by the tragedy on a daily basis.
The contrived, stereotypical tale resuscitates whenever Trier takes us into the mind of the younger son. In an evocative daydreaming sequence, the anguished teenager’s inner turmoils are revealed through a kaleidoscopic pairing of childhood memories and imagined reenactments—the balletic slow-motion depiction of Isabelle’s fatal car crash is the film’s most arresting image and a testament to the director’s visual artistry. These lyrical interludes have a visceral force and truthfulness which the poorly written, shallow interactions lack: beyond their social masks, the family members are not defined by much other than their grief.
Like the drug addict in Trier’s 2011 Oslo, August 31st, the war photographer in Louder Than Bombs wrestles to reconcile her private and public selves. Trier only gives us glimpses of her quotidian hell but Huppert’s quietly suffering face says it all, perpetuating the terrors of war in the offscreen space. There is beauty to be found in this solemn tribute, but such dignified souls deserve deeper exploration.