Echoes of the Past review – Max von Sydow’s final film is coda to a Nazi atrocity

Max von Sydow, in his final film role, does what he can to lend gravitas to this odd, stilted and contrived movie, a fictional drama based on a horrendous Nazi atrocity in occupied Greece in 1943, for which the question of reparations still grumbles on. In Kalavryta in the northern Peloponnese, nearly 700 civilians were shot by the Nazi forces, in chilling reprisal for Greek resistance fighters executing 78 German soldiers taken prisoner. Von Sydow plays Nikolas, an ageing Greek writer who as a young boy miraculously escaped the massacre, but has been haunted by it ever since. In the present day, Astrid Roos plays Caroline Martin, an ambitious Berlin lawyer who is tasked by a heartless and cynical German government to go to Greece and to find details that might undermine their case for reparations.

The tense occupation and slaughter of 1943 themselves are recounted in flashback, and director Nicholas Dimitropoulos makes a reasonably workmanlike job of this drama. But the film strangely insists on imagining a balancing “good German” who supposedly helps the Greek women and children. It is his existence that Caroline refuses to use against the Greek government, due to that predictable crisis of conscience to which the action had been unsubtly leading from the outset. She, in effect, becomes the film’s second imaginary “good German”, whose behaviour is at odds with the cynical German government.

Oddly, Caroline finally goes on a trip to Austria to interview the sad and saintly widow of this fictional good soldier, and she is played by Alice Krige, looking if anything younger than Von Sydow, who was supposed to be a small boy at the time. The film’s one moment of real power comes when Caroline visits the real-life Museum of the Kalavrytan Holocaust and stands in front of the memorial gallery of photographs: the victims’ faces. That has real substance. This film doesn’t.

• Echoes of the Past is available on 21 February on digital platforms.