Posts Tagged ‘Norway’

Joachim Trier follows his highly regarded Oslo, August 31st with his English-speaking debut Louder Than Bombs, which received mixed reviews in Cannes and Toronto before arriving here in Glasgow. Featuring an impressive cast including Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, Millers Crossing), Isabelle Huppert (Amour) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, The End of the Tour) Trier directs with skill, regardless of the new challenge of a second language.

Louder Than Bombs opens with a striking image of life – a newborn holding the hand of its father Jonah (Eisenberg) – shortly followed by a reveal of the death of Eisenberg’s mother Isabelle (Huppert), although this has already happened by the birth of Jonah’s son. This becomes a staple technique of the film, jumping forward and backwards in time, revealing a bit more detail each time, or viewing the same scene from a different character’s perspective. As a result, the dead mother Isabelle remains a living, breathing character in the film’s narrative, either due to flashback or premonition.

As for the rest of the family, the film deals with their varying attempts to cope with the grief of losing their mother including the sensitive windowed Husband Gene (Byrne), the aforementioned Jonah – who is more similar than his secretly suffering mother than he realised – and the younger teenage son Conrad; expertly played by Devin Druid, previously only known for playing teenage Louis C.K in his eponymous show. Conrad’s character is particularly fascinating, as while he appears to be the hardest hit of all, he shows the greatest deal of optimism in the film.

As well as family grief, Louder Than Bombs is very much about the words and feelings that go unexpressed between close family members – and the gap in understanding that this creates. Jonah’s character goes in the opposite direction of his younger brother: at first seeming capable of saving his family’s problems, but soon emerging as repressed and neglectful.

While the premise may sound fairly depressing, there is plenty of emotional depth found in this film. Louder Than Bombs retains a sense of humour and is playful enough with its form to keep it from being a “Capital D Drama” as Trier has put it. While the film examines the universally difficult subject of family grief, it doesn’t fail to show the warmth that these characters exert; even if often misplaced – as shown in several attempts by the father and sons to engage with the opposite sex – with varying degrees of success and conscientiousness.

On top of this, Trier plays with not just narrative structure, but with realism and filmic self-awareness, including lots of fun references to influential films (Vertigo, being one.) He also uses the imagination and dreams to represent the characters’ consciousness on screen. The greatest example of this is Conrad listening to a female classmate he is crushing on. As she reads aloud a classic text, he starts imagining her words visually; his mind takes over and she begins narrating the scene of his mother’s death and what thoughts might have gone through her mind, when she realised she was about to die. It is a truly thrilling scene and a technique that Trier explores throughout this intriguing film.

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Scandinavia is ‘in’ right now. For the past couple of years, audiences have been besieged by numerous TV crime dramas such as The Killing and Wallander, while the silver screen has seen the emergence of the Stieg Larsson franchise the ‘Millenium‘ trilogy. Wooly jumpers, inexplicably angular features and glib criminality are the new black. Or should that be icy grey.

The latest sensation being heralded is Jo Nesbo, whose novel has been adapted for the screen here. The story follows Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), a slick ‘headhunter’ who seems to have it all, with a beautful wife named Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) and a flashy minimalist apartment. Quite why a Norwegian man is called Roger Brown is anyone’s guess, but pretty much standard fare for this film. His wife, an exhibition curator of sorts, demands a lavish lifestyle, and more pressingly a child. In order to sate these needs, Roger has a rather far fetched sideline as an art thief. Well, these are tough economic times.

In the first scene we observe Roger stealing into an apartment and helping himself to a valuable painting on the way out. Mildly intriguing, but isn’t this just Hustle with sharper cheekbones? The plot clicks into gear with a meeting with Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a prospective new partner for Roger’s legitimate company. Handsome and smarmy, Clas has designs on Diana and furthermore, an extremely rare German painting lurking in his apartment. I could be wrong here, but I think we may have found our antagonist.

Inevitably Roger conspires to steal the painting, but when his accomplice in the dastardly deed is found near deaths door, things start to get a bit Jackson Pollock. Clas, it so happens, is a deadly ex-army tracker, and so ensues a game of cat and mouse. Frankly, this is a very silly and uneven film.  While the first half errs towards a slick, but ultimately humdrum corporate heist thriller, the second half veers wildly towards Coen-esque absurdist hijinks. It is this section which saves the film from banality, particularly a bizarre sequence featuring a tractor, an impaled dog and lashings of excrement. Possibly the wildest and most fun scene I’ve witnessed so far this year.

To be fair, Headhunters is fairly entertaining, and Aksel Hennie provides an empathetic character with a good line in puppy dog eyes. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau also fares well as the slimy Clas, but make no mistake, this is not high drama. The direction by Morten Tyldum is efficient and the pacy editing moves the film along quickly. The projects downfall is probably down to the source material more than anything, a fairly silly concoction to start with.

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