Iceland is the setting for a distinctive piece by Icelandic director Runar Runarsson called Echo, a collection of shots that bring to mind the work of fellow Scandinavian director Roy Andersson.
Comprised of 56 takes, this focuses on short events happening in the lives of a bunch of Iceland citizens as Christmas approaches. a series of day to day activities taking place one-by-one. There is no real plot to the film but more a focus on characters who appear in one shot before the film moves to the next before we get to know them properly.
Amongst the shots, all done in a static style, we observe a young girl being reprimanded in a school gymnasium for hitting another pupil who started on her, a father struggling to arrange a bank loan whilst his kids play nearby, a building site worker being informed of strikes over pay and a road rage incident bring streamed on Facebook Live.
It takes a short while to get used to this style but overtime, the style is accepted and the events we see become more appealing to digest. The best scene occur later in the film particularly a poignant shot where a remorseful woman confronts at a bus stop a woman she recognised as someone she bullied in school. Both actresses are impressive but particularly the bullied woman whose discomfort is felt and whose forgiving and subsequent walking away is poignant in a scene punctuated within the cold setting.
There are shots that appear simple but are presented almost like works of art such as the opening scene of a car travelling in a car wash, supermarket workers ditching out of date food into bins that could have been given to the homeless or a dog hiding under a settee as it moves in discomfort at the sound of fireworks outside.
The director shows scenes that some can relate to, such as when at a Christmas party, a polotical broadcast leads to argument and a
subsequent storming off of one of the guests. At least one scene will strike as familiar to a few watching given its tendency to focus on relatable events.
The joys of life, ie stepdaughters introducing to each other through piano-playing or the sadness of life as expressed when a woman breaks down in tears at work over a bad phone call.
The film carries itself by presenting these everyday characters who go through a range of emotions and in some cases have an impact despite their scenes being short, as part of the directors intentions.
Some scenes are not worthy of their presence however, almost tinkering with the story overall before another sequence soon sets it back on motion. A young man taking a phone call from a sunbed seems like filler while a shot of a group of men socialising in a garage upon bring chucked out by ones wife seems somewhat flat.
The first half seems a mixed bag for that reason and risks losing interest but thankfully the second half pushes ahead and provides the film with the often
emotional beat it aims for.
Its distinctive appearance may not be to everyone’s taste but in general, it’s a slice of Scandinavian life that warrants the time of those who will appreciate it.
The ensemble casting presents almost as a variety performance where there is only one chance to really make an impact and for the most part, it delivers its intented effect.
OUT OF 4 STARS: **1/2