Mareike Wegener’s fiction feature debut is a crime mystery with echoes of philosophical trauma


Source: Sabine Panossian / GRANDFILM


Dir/scr: Mareike Wegener. Germany. 2022. 98 mins.

There’s no lack of ambition in German director Mareike Wegener’s fiction feature debut Echo, which lets themes of personal and collective memory and trauma reverberate within a mystery framework, further embellished by fantastical elements and dry humour - although her desire to tackle big philosophical ideas, encompassing everything from Ovid to World War II, does take its toll on the underlying story. 

It’s most likely to strike a chord on home turf

Wegener, whose previous films were documentaries, moves into fiction with a challenging, offbeat style that could find a foothold at other festivals, particularly those with an emphasis on genre. Its inclusion in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section of Berlin Film Festival does signify that it’s most likely to strike a chord on home turf, however.

We see the origins of Detective Superintendent Saskia Harder’s (Valery Tscheplanowa) personal trauma unfold onscreen, as a deadly explosion during a training session in Afghanistan kills comrades and fills the air with a surreal hot pink fog from smoke bombs. Back in Germany a doctor signs off on Harder’s return to the force but, as a character soon notes, “you can’t see into other people’s heads”, and those Pink Panther-hued clouds will become a repeated motif for her PTSD, appearing at key moments throughout Echo. With low-stress work advised, she’s posted to the apparently sleepy town of Friedland where a mysterious mummified body has been found on a peat moor. 

The initial broody atmosphere, reinforced by the boxy academy ratio framing and bold scoring from Thom Kubli, who lets his big brass skirmish with the woodwind in the manner that recalls 1960s cop thrillers, holds plenty of intrigue as Harder begins her enquiries. She quickly discovers the body is that of a girl, leaving her with two main potential identities, one of whom is the missing daughter of local landowner Lorenz von Hüning (Felix Römer), who owns the moor. 

Just when the police procedural element of the film is getting going, the discovery of an unexploded Second World War bomb in von Hüning’s manor moat leads Wegener’s film to strike off at an odd but determined tangent. While there is mirroring between the sudden reappearance of a long-forgotten bomb and the discovery of a missing child, Wegener struggles to stitch them into a seamless narrative as her philosophical argument about the long reach of memory even when people are trying to forget begins to overwhelm everything else.  

Von Hüning has amassed an enormous collection of curiosities in the wake of the disappearance of his daughter including a talking parrot that, of course, offers its own little echo. The room crammed with these pieces stands in sharp contrast to the starkness of the rest of his home and is a lovely spot of production design work from Ina Timmerberg. The opposing tensions of von Hüning’s hoarding and the desire of the other potential victim’s father to get rid of all his child’s belongings and move on are interesting in their own right, but this subplot, along with considerations of the horrors of war start to fight with the psychological drama of Harder’s situation rather than compliment it. Wegener is increasingly drawn to intellectual argument, including everything from real archive footage entitled ’German civilians view atrocities’ to William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s painting Les Oréades, which leads Harder to imagine a manifestation of mountain nymph Echo. 

As the central mystery is resolved rather perfunctorily and with the multitude of abstract ideas swirling about them, the plot and characters struggle to stand their ground, fading like Echo themselves.

Production company/international sales: Petrolio Film, 

Producer: Hannes Lang, Mareike Wegener

Production design: Ina Timmerberg

Cinematography: Sabine Panossian

Editing: Mareike Wegener

Music: Thom Kubli

Main cast: Valery Tscheplanowa, Ursula Werner, Andreas Döhler, Felix Römer, Oskar Keymer