Hot Docs

Echo of You Review: Memories Are Made of This

Hot Docs 2024

4 mins read

Echo of You
(Denmark, 76 minutes)
Dir. Zara Zerny)
Programme: The Changing Face of Europe


Zara Zerny’s sometimes matter of fact, sometimes kookily experimental, documentary features nine old men and women talking about losing their life partners. One could summarize with a sentence from Roger Angell’s decade-old essay on aging in The New Yorker: “Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love.”

The film begins with each of them pressing their fingers to their eyes, like children triggering phosphenes. The subjects are seen sitting in their residences or nursing homes, on chairs or sofas and beds, surrounded by their pendulum clocks and paintings, as they talk about aging and losing their long-time partners.

The director, off-camera, can be heard occasionally, asking questions, as the subjects discuss first meetings, sex, quarrels, infidelity, grief, belief, or non-belief in an afterlife. Many speak of the experiences of the continuing presence of the person who has died, ranging from the scent of a partner in the closet, an impression of them sitting on an adjacent chair watching television. One woman recalls spending a long night telling her late husband to come to his senses and leave, so she could get on with her new relationship.

“I made him listen to reason,” she says. “Finally, I felt that he was gone. He left this dreadful void behind. I missed him again, awfully, but I could get in touch with him again.”

At other times, Zerny gets fancy: She has her subject sit silently, while old photographs or home movies are projected over their faces, accompanied by Viktor Dahl’s trance-like score, including wordless chanting, strings, and electronic motifs. The contrast between the past images and the present show what time can do to youthful beauty. Occasionally, the camera closes in on drooping flesh and mottled skin. At one point, she has the subjects silently dance, or at least wave their arms about. (There’s a clear winner in the dancing sequence; the acrobatic gentleman who joined the Cirque du Soleil with his wife, when they were both 73.)

Three of the subjects go on what appear to be virtual rides through the country, one in a cab of a train, one in a car and the other on her exercise bike. One 100-year-old woman seems to only do interviews while savouring an ice-cream cone. Of course, none of this is scientific. The sample size here is limited to a group of ethnically homogenous, people who had happy long-term relationships, all of it set in a secular welfare state with a reputation for frankness about the facts of life. Within that narrow circle, there are some minor variations.  One man is gay. Another is not actually a widower but has lost the partner he knew to Alzheimer’s disease. Most remain alone but a few have moved on and found new partners, to their surprise.

“To be told you’re sexy when you’re 84 is a huge gift” says one man.

What’s usual about Echo of You, is simply that it’s a film that allows old people to talk about their lives, their past, and the ongoing desire for intimate attachments.  The projections, the dancing and VR, are the sugar coating, the way to get past our indifference and denial.

Echo of You screened at Hot Docs 2024.


Liam Lacey is a freelance writer for and POV, Canada’s premiere magazine about documentaries and independent films.

Previously, he was a film critic for The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1995 to 2015. He has also contributed to such publications as Variety, Cinema Scope, Screen, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as broadcast outlets CBC and National Public Radio.

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