Max von Sydow and Astrid Roos do what they can with Echoes of the Past, a film that should have kept its story as simple as possible, but due to some misguidedness, veers off, leaving us with a difficult film to grapple with.
When the Greek government launches a multi-billion legal claim for war reparations, Caroline Martin (Astrid Roos), a high-flying lawyer representing the German government, visits Kalavryta to investigate. An unexpected encounter with the last survivor of the tragedy, Nikolaos Andreou (Max Von Sydow), leads them both down a dark chapter of history as the traumatic past comes to light once again. As the pair grapple with the painful Echoes of the Past, they are changed forever.
In what should be as straightforward a film as possible, of a survivor of a massacre retelling it to someone for reparation purposes, it seems so mysterious odd that the filmmakers would take on some of the rumours of the event instead of just focusing on the facts. Furthermore, there has been a dubious claim over one of the Austrian soldiers for quite some time, so to add him unnecessarily to this story and to give him a far more prominent role in the events feels completely misguided. Of course, there were instances of Nazi soldiers disobeying commands, but to include it so brazenly when it was not required detracts from the story being told. Furthermore, this removes you from Echoes of the Past. The film doubles down with this fictionalised version of events in the closing moments with the oddest of interactions between Caroline and the widow of the said soldier (age accuracy be damned).
Worst of all, it takes away from all of the great performances in the film. Von Sydow does some fantastic work here and adds that sense of loss that you would want to a piece like this. His ability to provide the smallest of nuances to a role will always stagger. But with him, we always knew he would deliver a strong performance, and he doesn’t fail us here as the dying Nikolaos. Equally, Roos is great as Caroline, a woman who wants to succeed in her law firm, but when presented with the sheer loss in the massacre and filled with compassion, must internally battle her career or her humanity. She carefully navigates this role and stands out as the calibre actress that she is.
When Echoes of the Past really works, the juxtaposition of the broad flashbacks and the small, intimate present conjure up some strong visuals and allows for an interesting take on the events of Kalavryta. Could we have just had a straight reenactment of what happened during that time? Yes, but having it bounce back from the past to the present allows us who were not alive then to understand the pain that happened. We see it in von Sydow’s eyes as he recounts what he remembers. You can’t help but be affected by that. Bringing some scenes into the present allows us to contemplate more; this is profoundly increased when Caroline visits the memorial museum and sees the wall of images. It is here that the movie does its job. To add in what amounts to basically rumours doesn’t do the film nor the people who were killed and survived the tragedy justice.
Echoes of the Past raises the awareness it needs to, to a possibly unknown event in WW2 history; certainly, it was unknown to myself. For that, you have to commend the filmmakers for what should be a strong, impactful film. Sadly it is hard to get past the inclusion of such fiction into a piece that is trying to bring said awareness to audiences. Blurring the lines even for dramatic effect do little for anyone. Depending on how closely affected you were by the tragedy or your knowledge of it will determine your overall thoughts of it. At worst, the film is contrived, but there was a lot of research carried out for the picture, so after viewing. Instead of thinking about the fiction aspect unnaturally brought in and focus on the awareness that it brings to those who suffered during the occupation and to those that survived, in the end, that is what truly matters.
Released on digital Monday 21 February
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