The story of a father and his two sons dealing with the memories of their deceased mother, who was a famed war photographer. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Devin Druid and Amy Ryan, written and directed by Norwegian Joachim Trier in his first English language feature.
Although the film is primarily advertised with Eisenberg at the forefront, it should in no way be considered his film, this is a team effort and it’s difficult to single out one actor in this film as there is a simply huge amount of emotion centred around loss and unresolved issues. Eisenberg is not far from his wheelhouse with this performance but gives another solid turn as a man on the cusp of fatherhood but reluctant to be the man he should be and accept the responsibility that comes with it. At dead centre is the relationship between father and son (Byrne and Druid) which has been hugely strained by the mother’s death and never quite recovered, Byrne being a submissive and down beaten parent who at this point has no idea what to do and Druid’s teenage angst and confusion heightened by the loss of his mother. And of course the result of such emotion is Huppert’s character Isabelle, as we see the toll taken on her, after seeing such death and devastation as a war photographer, she is wonderfully emotive at the same time as getting that sense of being dulled by such horrors, creating what is really a very troubled character. Lastly, you have to acknowledge Ryan as she is a wonderful actress and even in the relatively limited role she plays in this film, still puts so much feeling onto the screen and it’s simply a shame her role wasn’t more centric to the plot.
For me, this film is akin to a mix of something like Tree of Life and The Place Beyond the Pines, the fractured story telling of the former and the action-consequence plot of Pines. The constant mix of past and present give the story context in a way that a linear style may have made the film less watchable, it also allows the themes of loss, relationships, responsibility, confusion and closure to be shown in a way that is not too heavy going. Although this is by no means a light film, delving into issues that most people have experienced, one of the most interesting aspects being how the people in the same relationship or situation can have such different perspectives to the point where we can never really truly understand what that other person thinks or feels. At times the story does feel rather slow and takes time for things to move along and when they do, it isn’t exactly very far but the resonating quality makes up for any pace issues the film may have.
Dealing with loss is a huge issue for the entire human race and not a single person has it down on how to truly handle it which is why this film can really speak to an audience. This film didn’t make my list for what to watch this month and after having seen it, it’s still not clear that it’s that much of a highlight but it’s undeniably a solid film with huge emotion and an interesting exploration of the human condition. There’s some great, if understated due to the film’s rather melancholy themes, performances and it’s an intriguing story of dealing with the death of a close relative.