Great Britain

Echo review – a mesmerising mosaic of Icelandic festivities

Don’t waste time looking for a narrative thread or common character in Echo. The third feature from director Rúnar Rúnarsson is a series of single-shot vignettes (56 in total), connected only by their setting: Iceland, around Christmas and new year.

The brevity of these scenes doesn’t prevent them depicting nuanced emotions: a teenage girl visiting her father is shown up at the piano by his new girlfriend’s daughter. Or delivering political commentary: a man listens to a radio broadcast about a union dispute while toiling in his workshop. Echo also takes full advantage of each new scene-setting opportunity by presenting us with an abundance of aspirational interiors, impressive landscapes and meticulous mises en scène. The cumulative effect is like strolling through a Reykjavik gallery where each painting moves within its well-chosen frame.

Foreigners get a slice of Icelandic life, but the balance between universal themes and local detail is well struck in gently comic scenes, such as the one where a librarian takes a call from his mother to discuss food at the upcoming family get-together: “No, I’m not eating whale meat … Because I don’t eat whale meat … If Dad and you want to eat whale then you do that and we’ll come later … Yes, tell him that.”

The scenes that leave the most lasting impression, however, are those featuring a display of storytelling virtuosity. We’re introduced to characters one moment – a drug addict and his kind outreach workers, for instance – then moved to tears by them the next. It’s a wonderful (Icelandic) life. Echo’s surprisingly cockle-warming take makes it a worthy contender for your alternative Christmas classic.

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