TIFF Report #8 (Youth, Louder Than Bombs)

YouthMy 9th day at TIFF brought two foreign directors with new English language films. Paolo Sorrentino, an Italian filmmaker behind the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, has a movie already getting awards season buzz for Michael Caine. It’s really lame. However, Joachim Trier’s follow-up to his powerfully meditative Norwegian film, Oslo, August 31st, has been received with mixed reviews. I loved it.

Youth (5/10) is visually rapturous but boringly stoic. The storytelling is so loose it would make your pants fall if it were a belt. With pompous sequences that may as well yell, “metaphor alert,” the problem isn’t so much that Youth lacks subtlety but meaning. The film is artfully shot but dramatically it’s about as honest and clichéd as A Walk In The Woods, which startlingly, it shares many similarities.

Both are about two men blabbing while venturing on a journey to find purpose and inspiration. They talk about their uncertain future and their past escapades with women, but where A Walk In The Woods was about a travel writer and an on-the-run convict, Youth centers on a great director and a renowned British composer. Their dialogue is more poetic but their discussions are equally puerile.

Fred (an overrated Michael Caine) is a cynical and aging composer who spends most of his time lounging and talking: anything to accomplish nothing. A rocky relationship with his daughter and an unwillingness to compose or conduct again, Fred is in need of a new perspective and revitalization. In a stunningly situated resort for elite actors, businessmen and artists, Fred spends his time getting routine check-ups and having juvenile discussions with Mick (Harvey Keitel), who is an American filmmaker writing an ending for the screenplay that will be his final masterpiece.

If Sorrentino thought Youth was his, he’s greatly mistaken. Fred’s daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz), is going through a divorce with Mick’s son; a boy is being taught by Fred to play the violin; an actor (Paul Dano) famous for a phoned-in performance as a robot struggles to find purpose; a mountain climber pursues Lena: after two acts of relatively enjoyable middle-brow banter, the film struggles to come find an ending to tie all of its subplots together. Where the beginning revels in a loose comedic structure, the final act contrives a sappy ending where every character, every conflict and every theme is half-baked. If it were chicken, you’d vomit all its undercooked ingredients.

Louder Than Bombs 2

Emphasizing its art house influences, Joahim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs (9/10) is a familiar story told with surprising complexity and thoughtfulness. It’s the rare domestic drama with restraint and respect. Although its plotting may feel like it meanders, I’m not sure the film could be tighter thematically.

A few years after a war photographer’s death in a car crash, her husband, Gene (Gabriel Byrne), and two sons, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) and Conrad, have to reopen old wounds when a retrospective of her work is being held at an art gallery. Jonah leaves his wife and new-born daughter to return home and sort through his mother’s leftover belongings while Gene frets over his younger son who spends a lot of time alone playing video games. Like Youth, Louder Than Bomb’s premise feels overly familiar, and yet there has never been a film quite like it.

Photography is used as a central metaphor for the film’s structure. Just like how a photographs meaning can be altered by framing and depth of field, so too can these three men’s memories and feelings offer a unique perspective on their wife or mother. A portrait of grief and memory from different perspectives, Louder Than Bombs is always on the verge of exploding. But with quiet complexity, Trier undercuts any melodramatic trappings, and instead, meticulously uses voiceover and flashbacks to tell us more about the individuals who are reminiscing, than the person who is being reminisced.

True to their foreign roots, both filmmakers have concocted Euro-American cocktails that mix conventions from mainstream Hollywood and their international art house roots. One packages Hollywood escapism in an arty aesthetic but the other subverts its formulaic set-up. True to their titles, one is juvenile while the other’s poignancy is as explosive as a bomb.

Tomorrow: Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, Mr. Right, Beasts Of No Nation

Josh is a film critic who probably spends more time watching movies than you spend not watching movies. His tastes are unabashedly snobby and he tries to watch and promote Canadian films (despite the fact that most of them suck). Josh is currently taking a double major in philosophy and film studies. He also likes to point out why your opinions are fallacious by quoting the definition of ad hominem, ad populum, and ad nauseam. Notice how he just used an Oxford comma? He’s kind of pretentious like that.
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  • Casper Wainwright

    The review of “Youth” reeks of a young reviewer trying to make a name for themselves by being controversial, which is unbelievably ironic considering the content of the film being reviewed.

    Absolute drivel, but maybe it will help the reviewer become recognized. Unfortunately, it will likely be as somebody with the emotional and intellectual depth of a walnut.

    • Allyson Johnson

      Oh shush Casper. He is hardly the only person who didn’t like it. Ageism is unattractive. People from Time Out and Variety didn’t like it as well.

      • Casper Wainwright

        I’m sorry, but while the movie definitely has it’s flaws to list “storytelling” as a criticism of this type of film requires a special type of intentional dissonance from what this kind of movie is trying to communicate. Concluding with a line like “vomit all its undercooked ingredients” is simply trying to be intentionally antagonistic for the purpose of dramatic effect.

        It’s a garbage review. There movie isn’t perfect, but in this particular case, the review is simply serving as a vessel for the reviewer to launch themselves in the spotlight, while also helping to grow their developing career and ego.

        • Josh Cabrita

          Dude, how does disliking something everyone likes make me more popular? Why isn’t it fair to criticize this film’s storytelling? Should I have written a positive review even though I didn’t like it? Would you prefer to read something devoid of any dramatic effect? Your comments argument entirely relies on insulting me. Who is the one trying to make a name for themselves here?

          • Casper Wainwright

            Being one of the few critics that doesn’t praise a film help you to stand out amongst your peers, “all publicity is good publicity.”

            > Why isn’t it fair to criticize this film’s storytelling?

            Because the point of the film isn’t about having a “tight” story. It’s like criticising A Starry Night for not looking realistic. It shows a basic misunderstanding of what the film was trying to achieve.

            My criticisms are made because it honestly seems as though you missed the entire point of the film, as you were probably looking for the forest through the trees (oh no, another metaphor, run!). Films like this shouldn’t need to be explained to people, at the same time, critics shouldn’t be looking for “loose storytelling”, it reeks of inexperience.

            It seems in your hunt to decry the assault of metaphors in the film, you failed to extract any of the actual meaning from them.

          • Josh Cabrita

            Your final statements are so needlessly condescending.

            I think you’re misunderstanding my review. I liked the film’s loose comedic structure. It’s when it tries to bring everything together dramaticallly that it has problems.

          • Casper Wainwright

            Maybe if you provided a specific example I would better understand what you mean.

          • Josh Cabrita

            Well, I saw “Youth” about 50 movies ago (and spoiler alert), but I think I remember things feeling especially false when the film kills off a main character just to complete another character’s arc. It’s all supposed to come to a tightly knit and “inspiring” conclusion, but the earlier two acts of the film were mildly enjoyable for being the exact opposite.

          • Casper Wainwright

            They didn’t merely kill off a character to complete the other character’s arc, it was supposed to demonstrate the dichotomy between the intertwined lives of the two main characters (much like Jep and Romano in “A Great Beauty”). The idea of this was even foreshadowed within the first few moments of the film during the discussion about the fragility of the monarchy and it’s similarities to marriage. Instead of devouring films in order to brag about how many you can watch in a short period of time, you should reflect on those that you do watch in order to dissect some of the messaging they contain.

            I doubt this conversation will bear any more fruit as it truly seems as though you missed the entire point of the movie, especially if you considered the ending “inspiring”. At least you got to check the movie off of your “movies watched” list, quantity doesn’t necessarily demonstrate understanding.

          • Josh Cabrita

            Did you not notice where I watched this film? In the festival context, critics devour many movies a day. It’s not ideal but it’s inevitable. That being said, I think it’s absurd to think the final sequence of the film isn’t meant to be inspiring. The death may be appropriately foreshadowed but that doesn’t make it anymore honest.

          • Allyson Johnson

            Your edit is very rude. There are plenty of people on this site who enjoyed this film (myself being one of them). The writers on our site don’t have ONE, agreed opinion about everything, we just hope to appeal to younger readers. And it speaks a lot about who you are as a person and your generation that you’d feel the need to ridicule what we’re trying to do.

            Take a moment for yourself and chill out, rather than sitting on your high horse while commenting negatively on a site for younger folk.