Echo (Bergmál)

Echo (Bergmál) (2019)

Echo (Bergmál) first published by EyeforFilm at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

Told in 56 tableaux, with DP Sophia Olsson tending to shoot wide without ever moving her camera,  Rúnar Rúnarsson’s Echo (Bergmál) is an episodic mosaic of Iceland’s chilly northern region in the Christmas and New Year’s period.

Though there is no recurrence of characters, the scenes connect through suggestive associations of image and idea. For example, one featuring a young child is followed by another in which a child is seen laid out in a coffin, which is itself followed by an image of a living man laid out on a sun bed. Later, we will see an elderly woman at a cemetery telling a young girl that in turn grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter will join the grandfather in the grave – only for the mother to interrupt and ask them both to smile for a photo. People at work are frequently interrupted by phone calls from their loved ones at home. A road safety billboard documenting the number of people who have died on the road is reset to zero come the new year.

Though filmed in real locations rather than artificial studio sets, Echo is most closely reminiscent of the stylised downbeat absurdities of Roy Andersson’s films – and the setting of one scene here in a museum room full of display cabinets exhibiting stuffed birds seems a direct allusion to the opening scene from Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence (2014). The disparate vignettes of Echo are held together by strange rhymes and resonances (to which its very title alludes), so that social, generational, economic and political conversations and contradictions are juxtaposed between, and sometimes even within, individual scenes.

Rúnarsson observes these human follies and foibles and occasional kindnesses with a documentarian’s (or perhaps a comedian’s) aloofness, and by the time it is all over, viewers will feel that they have seen all of Iceland exposed to rolling waves of piecemeal, semi-satirical examination. 

© Anton Bitel