Reviews by Joyce Glasser echoes of the past (21 February 2022) Certificate 15, 95 min. On Reel 2 Reel Films digital platforms.
Max von Sydow, the Swedish-French actor who died in 2020 aged 90, is best known for his brilliant collaboration with Ingmar Bergman (The seventh seal, The virgin spring) and for his mainstream roles, including those of William Friedkin The ExorcistWood Allens Hannah and her sistersand JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But his final role is as the fictional Greek writer, Nikolaos Andreou, the last eyewitness to the very real Kalayryta massacre on December 13, 1943, in the Greek film. echoes of the past, on digital release. He might not have said goodbye with a bang, but von Sydow’s appearance is the only reason to see the film.
The film is “inspired by true events,” but the only true event is the massacre, told in a flashback through the eyes of writer Nikolaos Andreou (Von Sydow) to a high-profile German lawyer, Caroline Martin (Astrid Roos). Martin represents the federal government against a multi-billion dollar war reparations claim.
There is an uncomfortable scene in Berlin when Martin’s client, a cynical minister, laments: “If the Greeks win, nothing will stop the Poles, Belgium, even the Russians from claiming their own pound of flesh.” They debate whether the The 1990 Two Plus Four contract settled the matter of these ongoing claims, but Martin has to break the bad news that the matter can be legally construed.
Not only is it embarrassing that this discussion is being held in English with a strange accent, even though everyone present is German, but it is strange that this discussion is taking place in modern times, as we learn from a caption. With Peter Eisenmann’s 2005 Holocaust Memorial, a 19,000-square-foot memorial on prime property between East and West Berlin, it’s pretty clear that the Germans have made a conspicuous admission of guilt.
A PR consultant searching for a possible “PR disaster” for Germany suggests that Martin try to uncover any extenuating circumstances she can find to challenge the Greek claim: “everything else.” could shed light on the tragedy.” . So Martin tells her disappointed fiancé that she is heading to Athens to investigate the case that will propel her career forward.
To give you an idea of the caliber of writing, Martin says, “I’m winning this one and the future is mine.” To do justice to her callousness, as soon as she hears Andreou’s testimony, she realizes that her small career must take second place to her moral compass. Her decision at the end of the film may be overblown, but the film’s “journey” belongs to Martin.
Director Nicholas Dimitropoulos does a good job of recreating the tensions in young Andreou’s middle-class family as two German officers move into their home, especially when we learn that Andreou’s father is a member of the Greek resistance. When the resistance kills 78 Nazi soldiers, the family realizes there will be retribution but cannot escape. Dimitropoulos also stages the massacre scenes with impressive realism.
The women and infants are herded into the school building, which is locked and set on fire. A Viennese soldier opens the door and allows them (including Andreou) to escape. This bit can be true.
Apparently Martin found her spin – a nice Viennese soldier who freed the women and children. She goes to Austria to visit the heroic soldier’s widow (played by Alice Krige, who looks younger than Andreou, although she should be at least ten years older). Luckily for Martin, who is traveling without an interpreter despite the size of the Greek claim, the widow speaks English, as does Andreou.
Martin also visits the Kalayryta Holocaust Museum that exists, bringing authenticity and pathos to the film. Oddly enough, however, Dimitropoulos leaves old Andreou a copy of his book, echoes of the paston a bench dedicated to Caroline Martin.
If Andreou is the historian of the massacre, whose two books (that we see) are so famous that they have been translated into English, one might wonder why Martin didn’t read them – before he went to Athens? You may also be wondering why Andreou left the book at the memorial instead of giving it to her at home after the interview.
While half of the film frames the massacre, the memorable parts remain the reconstructions of the massacre and von Sydow’s dignified, hurt interview. When the camera looks at his face, we feel all the pain as if it happened today. What it is, only somewhere else.
Max von Sydow’s last film is based on true events with a topical connection, but he is the reason to see the film.
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