Max Von Sydow’s career spanned over 70 years after beginning in 1949. In that time, he would earn two Academy Award nominations and star in many celebrated films that exist now to remind us of his tender genius. His final performance is only coming to us now in the form of Nicholas Dimitropoulos’ Echoes of the Past, a film that centres on the immeasurable tragedy of the Massacre of Kalavryta, a Nazi war crime committed in 1943 in Greece. It’s told in the past, as we witness the horrific acts, and in the present through lawyer Caroline Martin (Astrid Roos) representing the German government against a Greek war reparation claim over the events.

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In touching on the two sides of this story, I’m also touching on the project’s most significant flaw. The two pieces don’t gel as well as they should; often, it simply feels the segments in the past should be the focus of the whole film, which is unfortunate because von Sydow only appears in the present. He plays one of the only male survivors of the massacre: Nikolas Andreou (played as a child by Maximos Livieratos), and he does so powerfully as his old and frail self reflects on the day that ruined his life. However, near the end of the film, he sums up perfectly why his portions aren’t necessary. He states, “It was never about the money” regarding the reparations, and he’s right. So while the film comes to a moral conclusion all will agree with, it’s hard to feel that the goose chase in finding evidence to assist the German government isn’t an odd way to pay tribute to the victims. 

This being said, the other half of the film in the past is very well made. Dimitropoulos does all his best work as he highlights the men and women of Kalavryta dealing with the toughest things anyone can ever face. There is a sensitivity, seen in the free-flowing camera and poignant performances, and a ferocity in not shying away from the cruelness of the Nazi regime. Where the issues arise is in the languages. Predominantly, the film is in English, which is fine, but it often uses Greek and rarely uses German, even when two German government officials talk to each other. Upon inspection, you can see that the main German characters of the cast aren’t German, which was a startling decision. The most egregious of all the casting is Tomas Arana as a German general; he makes for a Nazi with an extremely American accent, and the scenes he’s in all come off as comical as a result. 

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Of course, such mistakes are foolish, and without asking Dimitropoulos, I can’t know why they occurred. But I can say that these moments don’t spoil the film as a whole. The sheer weight of the actual events keeps everything quite powerful, and you can tell the goal of Echoes of the Past is to raise awareness of these crimes. Unfortunately, the Axis campaign in Greece isn’t overly present in the discourse on WWII, and this film will at the very least begin important discussions. 

Echoes of the Past is host to Max Von Sydow’s final ever performance, and it’s a good one. The two narrative strands Nicholas Dimitropoulos chose to follow don’t always combine to form the impact he was hoping for, but the true story at the core is far too powerful to ignore. 

Echoes of the Past is available now on digital.