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"We tell ourselves and each other stories to survive"

Interview: Ny Tid met director Joachim Trier before the premiere of his new film Louder Than Bombs, to talk about what experiences and what thinking it takes to make quality films.


When asked what motivated director Joachim Trier to spend a lifetime making films, he refers to childhood. Both his father and mother worked on film – he also had a role model for his grandfather, the filmmaker Erik Løchen. Trier grew up on the film set, where he found the magic of the film camera, and also something ritual and fascinating, he says.
Now one can wonder if following his family's footsteps is so brilliant; if one should rather do something else: "Yes, but I've been given the opportunity to do my own thing, develop my way of expressing myself."

Erik Løche
Erik Løchen

In addition, watching a lot of films seemed very motivating to him, and Trier ended up at the National Film & Television School in London where he received his formal film education: “I was one of the youngest to come in, which was difficult and did that I had to overcompensate. People thought that I had neither life experience nor experience with film. So I had to bluff my way through and pretend I knew a lot I did not know. Something you continue with for the rest of your life as a filmmaker. "
Exactly experience is the first topic of this conversation with one of Norway's foremost film directors of the time. Does Joachim Trier get his footage from his own life – has he experienced enough to have a life-wisdom to share with his audience?
"That's a big question. I am 41 years old now, so I guess I have some life experience. I don't know how to drive; I'm not good at cooking. But I have experienced being with people, and the downs and ups associated with that. I also think that my films reflect that. When I was younger I focused more on formality, but now I am also more concerned with expressing human experiences, thoughts, emotions – existential themes. ”

Isabelle Huppert in the Louder Than Bombs. Photo: Jacob Irhre, Motlys AS
Isabelle Huppert in the Louder Than Bombs. Photo: Jacob Irhre, Motlys AS

War Photographers. Trier's premiere film Louder Than Bombs trades – just like Thousands of good nights by Erik Poppe – about a female war photographer. Poppe had some such experiences from war zones before making the film. I ask Trier about the same: "I myself have not been a war photographer, but I have met many of them, including several of Magnum's best photographers. I have also read books on this. Still, I decided early on to concentrate the film on the family situation. My approach to the photographer in the film (called Isabelle Reed, played by Isabelle Huppert) as a character is more about an individual – about a mother who is separated from her family. About how roles we get in relationships do not always match ourselves. Isabelle paradoxically grieves her family, even though she has spent her life conveying the grief of others. So I chose to focus more on family dynamics at home, rather than telling the story of a war photographer out in the field. ”
Unlike the bombs of war, it is possibly the deafening silence Trier grabs. Possibly something he has personally experienced: "My previous movie Oslo 31 August is about a man who is addicted to heroin. I have not experienced what it is like to have a drug problem. But I've known people who have. I also know how this can be used as a metaphor for more existential things – loneliness, the feeling of being lost, the way forward – feelings that I can relate to. "

Isabelle paradoxically grants her family her grief even though she has spent her life conveying the pain of others.

Still, I'm not giving up, as Trier in his third film is moving more into the world than before: "Okay, we can talk more about that. I believe that images of war have changed from the 60s and through the 90s. In the Balkans and in Rwanda, we had a strong presence of conflict journalists. Today, through mobile images, we get close proximity to what can portray grief worldwide. We've become more numb to the shocked images. "
Film Louder Than Bombs has a moment where the Western ignorance is just illustrated – from the airport in New York: «It is actually a moment we are with Isabelle as a subject. Most of the time, the film talks about the importance of the mother – the way she is remembered and portrayed. But here we see the situation from her point of view, where a man just flips through her pictures in the New York Times, and does not care about her work at all. "
Yes, how can shelling experiences be communicated from other parts of the world, far from home? In our conversation, Trier refers to how war photographer Don McCullin first opened people's eyes to Vietnam, and the famine disaster in Biafra. When these images were printed in magazines and newspapers, they were unique. The images were brought to magazines and newspapers where editors selected them and put them in a context.
At the Cannes press conference in May, Trier mentions one of the Louder Than Bombs role models, whose photographs are also used in the film. Alexandra Boulat was also mentioned when I previously wrote about Poppe's film. She was a brave woman who eventually photographed a lot in the Middle East, especially in Gaza and the West Bank. She died early, not of a bomb or suicide, but of a cerebral haemorrhage in a hospital in Israel. "She has been very important to this film, thank you for coming in on her! I spent a year and a half on the subject, since I had no experience of war zones myself. I wanted to produce a nuanced picture, so I spent a lot of time doing research on war photography. We were lucky to get help from Boulat's family who were excited about the project that gave us material. Alexandra Boulat was important because she shows the consequences of war – the effect war has on a family. Her work in Gaza is particularly poetic, in that it gives us other images of what we have been told a thousand times before about human suffering. "
Boulat's pictures are known to show the consequences of the violent incidents: "Exactly. After the tanks left, she spent time with the civilians to show daily life, survival of war and life after the fighting – which I think is very touching. In her work from the Balkans, especially from Sarajevo, one can see a mother crying trying to play with her daughter to look after the normal during the daily attacks of the war. It is heart-wrenching and at the same time a window into the reality of these people. What is remarkable about Boulat and other female war photographers is their access to the family life of others: They gain access to situations that men are not easily accessed because of cultural aspects. ”

Click-capitalism. I ask Trier about the human desire to see suffering, to be shocked by the world – about how the media society we are surrounded by, almost feeds on these images. It is not just Susan Sontag who has described how the desire to see pictures of other people's suffering seems greater than seeing pictures of naked bodies: “Yes, the question you ask is big, and I will try to answer it. I see the same challenges in certain media and on film. We are to a greater extent forced into one emotional conservatism, where we don't spend time on the complex of things. I have many journalist friends from several types of media who say they are forced to score fast points – a form of 'click capitalism', where fast information is worth more than the thorough one. Among the immediately satisfying things is the shock and the tragedy. In film, there are some dramaturgical methods that act as "sugar". It would be nice to get away from this, but not necessarily tempo-wise. I like things evolving – I like pace. I want to give the audience ambivalence, space and an opportunity to create their own relationship with film and images. ”

Work with memories. We change the theme, to what Trier himself said at the presentation in Cannes – that he works with identity, memory og time: "You can ponder endlessly about making time and memories on film. On a personal level, I am one who remembers a lot from my own childhood. And it has created a melancholy in me. My movies are about how we remember. I can also play with the memory, such as the youngest brother Conrad in Louder Than Bombs: As he listens to a girl in the class who reads about someone who is drowning, he begins to think about his own mother's death, and imagines how his mother remembered him at various moments, when he was playing hide-and-seek. Film is also a test in exploring how people think and associate, as a phenomenological process.
Now that we are in the memories and being seduced by pictures, we come in to Trier's grandfather Erik Løchen, who is especially known for the films Jakten (1959) and objection (1972). The lie could just experiment in Bertolt Brecht's way, by a kind of alienation in which the film audience was made aware that they were watching film, through means such as breaking the story. What about the grandson? "He has more of Brecht in him than me. I love beauty. I think your questions are fascinating. It is fun. Let's use my grandfather and me as an example of the nuance between modernism and 90s postmodernism. While I'm interested in the seduction, he believed more that we could reach reality through shatter the glass. At the same time – and perhaps unconsciously – I believe that my very political grandfather left room for beauty; like the movement of people in time, moments that seep through his films. For example, try to watch the Hunt without sound. But I'm more fascinated by Andrei Tarkovsky, who in my opinion is one of the greatest filmmakers and artists of the time. Instead of going into modernism, he sought a more classicist way of looking at Renaissance painting, of seeing man in the light of its spirituality. "
Trier emphasizes that he is an atheist, but taught here something about beauty and realism: “It is the perception of the mind that must be expressed to achieve what he is talking about as realism. It is not the outer mimics, but to bring forth the perception itself. And that's hard. "

To survive. Back to memory, to experience, to understanding the world – or to for ready to deal with it. Suicide became the solution for Trier's last two films, Anders and Isabelle. There the one in Oslo 31 August struggled to find meaning in what he perceived as a trivial environment, the latter struggled Louder Than Bombs with understanding herself, where she did not find herself completely at ease in the family or in the war zone – she simply gave up in her pain and grief. In a way, these two films are a depiction of two people who have swum too far from land, with no opportunity to recover. But why does Trier repeatedly address this issue?
“There can be many reasons for that, including private ones. But there is an existential dimension to these people that I find interesting: dealing with the feeling of being lost. These films deal with separation, loneliness, and a basic need to find belonging. ”

We create stories about the loss of things in time. The melancholy of things disappearing.

Suicide and fellowship with others is described strongly by Jean-Luc Godard, where he clips between the clips in the TV series History (s) of Cinema (1989) says "Don't hurt yourself, because we're all still here." Isn't this a beautiful thought, I ask Trier – the fact that we have a community in which we are reminded that we are still here in the world, where we the viewers are almost approached as 'angels' who keep the stories alive so that they do not disappear into oblivion, or oblivion, philosophically:
"It's very interesting. I don't know if I can add anything more to this, because I think Godard is a genius. But I can quote Joan Didion that we tell ourselves and each other stories to survive. We need stories, which is why storytelling is both a political and an essential human thing that we have to deal with. We need stories that open our minds and ask questions, not just those that give us instant gratification. ”

Anders Danielsen Lie from Oslo on 31 August. Photo: Motlys / Norwegian Film Distribution
Anders Danielsen Lie from Oslo on 31 August. Photo: Motlys / Norwegian Film Distribution

About Nilhilism. Without this comfort you can – like Anders in Oslo 31 August, I ask Trier – possibly being subjected to a cynical nihilism: "Anders i Oslo 31 August have this I would call a self-destructive integrity, in the sense that anything that is not fantastic is nothing. It is also something that many artists are sensitive to. If it doesn't get amazing, both me and the artwork are a shit. But I think neither I nor those I work with are very nihilistic – we create stories about the loss of things in time. The melancholy of things disappearing and the desire to keep them. Anders is narcissistic, unable to see himself as one among many – which I believe is a prominent feature of our time. Maybe our ultimate dream is to dance with the others, to interact with the others. This is a question I raise in these films – maybe especially Louder Than Bombs, where the mother is an outsider and everyone is in a way alien to each other, while desperately longing to meet. "
I Louder Than Bombs is precisely the mother's suicide a family secret, which upon a sudden publication in the New York Times causes a turnaround for the youngest son Conrad and the others in the film: "The story is about this – what does it mean in public, what does it mean in private? This is an essential issue in the film. ”
I wonder if there are any life experiences in Trier's own life that evoke this attention to people in isolation. Has he, as we talked about in the beginning, experienced himself experiences which seems motivating for his film art?
"There is a very interesting distinction between privacy and creative processes. By shielding some of the things from my private life, preserving them as personal thoughts and feelings, I am also able to transfer the questions to something creative – which is more open to the public than depicting a personal experience. I have lost friends in suicide, but I have not needed to describe these fates specifically, but rather the questions surrounding the losses.

Life and the others. The movie starts with a baby being born, and ends with a black-and-white clip where Conrad, in a magical sequence, meets again the mother who comes with a baby who can't speak, but in the shape of an old, friendly man. Why this scene at the end?
"Conrad is a character I care about a lot. He is in his own world all the time. He is both dreamy and realistic. I wanted Conrad to take us out of the movie; his dreams are in a way as important to the truth as the facts that people are so afraid of hiding. It is a fantasy of the dissolution of time and age – and in that way it is a dream of life, about life, and therefore also of death. This is a young person's world of thought – there is a beauty to this that I want to explore. "
When it comes to film material, I end the conversation by sticking to the experience, the theme of death, but preferably where it relates to a larger world, to the greater tragedies than those within family and friendship that Trier has filmed – such as the refugee tragedies of today :
“It has been inspiring these days to see the effect of images from the refugee situation that have reached Europe. The interesting thing is whether it will lead to political action. After all, as a director, I have faith and hope for the power of images to do something. ”

Louder Than Bombs premieres 2.10. Watch our edited video interview here:

Truls Lie
Truls Liehttp: /
Editor-in-chief in MODERN TIMES. See previous articles by Lie i Le Monde diplomatique (2003–2013) and Morgenbladet (1993-2003) See also part video work by Lie here.

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