Louder Than Bombs makes US debut
Joachim Trier talks to NAW about Norwegian cinema, his love for New York, and his new film
Already well known to audiences in Norway for his films Reprise and Oslo, August 31, Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier makes his English-language debut with Louder Than Bombs. Trier’s new drama, starring Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, and Gabriel Byrne, tells a story about the impact of a war photographer’s death on her husband and her two sons. Louder Than Bombs opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on April 8, with a nationwide rollout to follow. Here is our interview with the filmmaker.
Julia Andersen: How and when did the concept of the film come about?
Joachim Trier: We wanted to do a type of film that I grew up with, and the funny thing is it’s kind of a ping-pong between American and Scandinavian culture. I’ll give you my theory.
When I grew up, I really responded well to films by Woody Allen; I remember a film by Robert Redford called Ordinary People, basically a good character-driven drama. A lot of filmmakers of that generation were very inspired by Ingmar Bergman. Then for LTB I was very inspired by this play called Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. That’s a classic American play, but it turns out Arthur Miller was really inspired by Ibsen! There is this back-and-forth kind of drama, character driven…
What are these cultural similarities? I spent a lot of time in New York and I like people here. There is certain kind of … I don’t know. We were shooting with my Swedish cinematographer upstate in Nyack. We were in the house, that family house [in LTB]. We look out of the house, there are some pine trees, and we feel like home. I don’t know what it is. So anyway, the Norwegian Americans can tell me maybe what the hell is going on here. [Laughter] I feel very drawn to this place.
JA: Louder Than Bombs is your first English-language film and you were able to put together an amazing international cast. Was this experience different from working with Norwegian actors?
JT: Yes and no. Of course they are more famous and they are very inspiring to learn from, because they are so good, but actually as we were shooting and we became friends, I feel that the process is always the same with an actor for me, which is that I try to stimulate them and support them in their method, in their way of working, rather than impose my own set of rules on them.
But it was great to work with Isabelle Huppert for example, who is one of the greatest actors of all time in my opinion. We would sit around after a great scene and I would say to my cinematographer: “Let’s change to a 50mm lens.” And I would hear Isabelle say: “Oh 50mm! Chabrol always used 50.” And we were like: “Aaah!” She worked with all these wonderful masters of cinema, so she shares her stories. She’s very generous; that was fun.
JA: When you were thinking of actors for the roles, did you immediately think of Isabelle Huppert to play the war photographer?
JT: Yes. I knew her a little bit before. She’d seen Oslo, August 31st and got in touch with me. I wanted to do something with her, so this was kind of perfect.
JA: Is Isabelle’s character based on Alexandra Boulat?
JT: Her character is not based biographically on Boulat. Her life was very different. But her images we were allowed to use and I think they were very inspiring for the type of aesthetic that Isabelle Huppert’s character has in the film. We used several of Alexandra Boulat’s images for the film and I admire her. I think she did a great job. She unfortunately passed away a few years ago from cancer, so it’s a very different story. It’s very important to emphasize that it is not the story we’re telling.
JA: You prefer a non-linear way of storytelling. Do you find it to be more effective to bring out emotion from the audience?
JT: I think form is of the essence when you make film. It’s like music. It’s when you play it, then it becomes an emotion. It’s through that. And this particular film, there was a reason. It’s a fragmented story of a family. They are grappling with different memories, different moments of life after their mother passed away. It’s like a mosaic.
JA: Your grandfather was a filmmaker. What influence did he have on your decision to become a director and on your films?
JT: Thanks for asking. My grandfather was in Cannes in 1960 with his first film The Hunt (Jakten), which is kind of weird and sweet. He was there with Bergman, Fellini, and Antonioni, and he just made his first film. So when I was now in the main competition in Cannes myself with LTB, it was kind of sweet to feel this sort of cycle. In my family it was a big deal.
I didn’t see his films until I had started doing short films myself actually. But it was his spirit to try to create pure cinema. He passed away when I was nine, so I didn’t talk about movies with him, but through my mother I’ve learned a lot about him. I guess that the pure concentration at cinema as an art form is what comes from him in me. I didn’t start doing it because I wanted to get famous or rich; it is truly because I love movies, and I was shown a lot of films because my whole family—both on mother’s and father’s side—really like movies.
JA: In your films all your protagonists are always self-destructive, tortured intellectuals who look for answers to existential questions…
JT: Aren’t we all? [Laughter]
JA: Why are these characters so close to you? Why is it important for you to share this side of yourself with the audience?
JT: I am interested in the existential questions. In LTB we’re dealing a lot with sexuality and death, eroticism of this, you know, in a teenage mind, in an adult man, in a young father. I think that these are the biggest questions that we can ask, and I think they come up in any culture at any given time. Our mortality is how fortunately or unfortunately we look at our present. I’m interested in a sort of melancholy and memory and time and things passing. I am drawn to that in my own life, I care about these things, so I can’t answer more than that. It keeps coming up. I don’t know why. I am still getting to know myself, we all are, it takes time, and I am creating films along the way.
JA: Norwegian cinema is not as well known to the world as Swedish or Danish, and some have suggested that it is because Norway never produced an auteur filmmaker of the caliber of Ingmar Bergman or Lars von Trier. Do you agree with that, or do you think there are other reasons for Norwegian films to be missing the international acclaim?
JT: There could be many reasons. I think one, we definitely didn’t have this big driving force, these auteurs, but we’re also a younger country that obtained more wealth during the 70s, so we’re younger in terms of that type of culture. Another thing is we’ve been amazingly well developed in terms of literature and stage plays. We have great writers. So I think there has been an outlet rather than to go to the movies. Who knows, who knows?
I really can’t answer that. But I have to add I also don’t believe in national cinema as a concept. The same city we’re sitting at now [New York] we have Scorsese, Allen, Sidney Lumet, all doing New York films, but with completely different voices, different directions.
JA: That’s American cinema.
JT: Yes, but even from the same city, they are so different! My point is it always comes down to an individual, or the group around him. You know, Ruben Östlund I feel closer to maybe than some of the Norwegian directors. It’s not about the nationality, its about which individuals are there at play at that time.
What’s changed in Norway since the 70s and the 80s is that we finally have a system that supports cinema and filmmakers. That’s great, and I hope it doesn’t go away with the new government now. I really hope they keep sustaining the support.
JA: Does the government now provide more help and resources to new filmmakers in Norway?
JT: More than they used to. It’s happened in the last 20 years. So that really gives an opportunity to do films. Even LTB has a big component of Norwegian financial support in it. That’s a national concern, that’s important.
JA: Any recent Norwegian film you liked and can recommend?
JT: Ole Giaever did a film called Mot Naturen (Out of Nature). I thought that was really great. I like of course my friend Eskil, who I write with, and his film Blind, which was fun.
JA: What are you working on now? What can we see come out next?
JT: I am working on a Norwegian script. We haven’t announced it yet, but I am hoping to shoot a Norwegian film this fall actually. We’ll see; I am working on it.
Julia Andersen is a freelance writer based in New York. She is a Columbia University graduate and has a particular affection for Scandinavian films.
This article originally appeared in the April 8, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.