Dir/Wri: Rúnar Rúnarsson | Drama, Iceland, 80′
Rúnarsson gained international recognition with his multi-award-winning drama Sparrows which took the FIPRESCI prize at Gotenburg 2016. His latest feature, Echo (Bergmál), competing here at Locarno, sees Iceland getting ready for Christmas in an unconventional and seriously un-Christmassy series of vignettes.
Some of them are distinctly grim, others just downright bizarre, as a peculiar atmosphere settles over the country and the hours of light rapidly diminish, shrouding the country in darkness. An abandoned farm is burning, an open coffin stands in the church, chicken carcasses parade through a slaughterhouse, and a drug addict stocks up at his local medical centre.
Echo juxtaposes the joyful, banal and downright weird – in other words, just a normal country preparing for the festivities through 56 unrelated scenes. From the festive: a children’s rousing Nativity play; a firework shop doing a roaring trade; to the down to earth: a bloke has some highlights done while moaning about his love life. Humour also comes into the equation: a farming couple argue bitterly while their sheep rut energetically in front them; a political argument threatens to derail a family party. Some scenes are quietly moving: a girl dissolves in tears after finishing with her boyfriend; a woman gives birth joyfully, and a choir sings Silent Night round a towering Christmas tree resplendent with lights; Meanwhile a whimpering dog doesn’t know what to make of the fireworks, and scuttles under the settee.
Ultimately what makes Echo so enjoyable is its sheer element of surprise and contrariness: we just don’t know what’s coming next – yet each scene is beautifully shot and composed whatever the subject matter. Iceland emerges a nation like any other: with hope, fears and vulnerabilities all exposed at the often fraught Christmas season.
Producer Lilja Ósk Snorradóttir added: “Echo is artistic, bold but at the same time extremely beautiful and intertwines so many things like humour, grief and beauty. I allow myself to say that no film like this has ever been made and surely not a Christmas film.” It’s certainly true and thoroughly entertaining.
LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7-17 AUGUST 2019