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American Women's Club of Hamburg

ECHO (Bergmál) - film review

Rúnar Rúnarsson, Iceland | France | Switzerland

The annual Christian festival of Christmas is celebrated according to culture and climates. Western traditions of lights, glitz, and glitter are followed by adorned trees, carols, presents, and overindulgence. Hot on its heels appear fireworks and social occasions characterized by intemperance. Then, as a new day begins, the slate’s wiped clean – “Nobody dead this year.”

A line of protectively cocooned individuals crossing a frozen, desolate-looking landscape that stretches across the screen introduce audiences to Icelandic winter. Subsequently, are uninterrupted vignettes portraying people’s lives during the days leading to Christmas; these individual interpretations are provoking, and thoughtful. From kiddies’ photos with a mall Santa, to scenes of unwrapping presents, to after Christmas pastimes, e.g. fitness studio workouts, to buying fireworks then a pyrotechnics-lit sky while pets hide, we journey through Christmastime. Heart lifting and heartwarming incidents are commingled with unacceptable and inexcusable behavior.

Most compelling are juxtapositions: mother and toddler cozily looking out at birds in the snow, and a little boy lying in a snow white casket; grade school nativity play, and bikini beauty contest accompanied by disco-music; family buying a tree, and estranged dad buying a child’s love, and families at a food bank, and families around food-laden dining tables.

The Oscar® nominated (Die letzte Farm, 2006) writer-director Rúnar Rúnarsson’s alluringly conscientious, concise storyline is principled, and evocative. Some scenes are piercingly unforgettable: three generations at the graveyard, a granddaughter’s brief nursing home visit, and hearing a bully receive absolution.

ECHO’s promise is a new start, as a new day and year dawns. It echoes a strong message: how silly and meaningless that holiday has become, unintentionally relating to DAS KAPITAL IM 21. JAHRHUNDERT (Capital in the Twenty-First Century). Capitalism has captured Christmas, the documentary implies, as a powerful, moneymaking tool. (MH)

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