A Distant Echo, directed by George Clark, is a visually beautiful meditation on the desert landscape of Southern California. The stunning cinematography dwells on the play of light and shade on the everchanging rippling patterns in sand dunes, giving rise to some beautiful natural geometries. Mountains change colour, coming into sharp focus in the sunshine and disappearing entirely in the dramatic desert storms.
The film mostly stays in uninhabited areas of the desert, only a tortoise and the occasional black clad figure coming into view. Only occasionally do we see roads and other human imprints on the desert. This in contrast to the dialogue, in which explorers reveal the
negotiations between an archaeologist from Cairo and members of a tribe
who guard ancient desert tombs. Their words offer insights into the history of Western exploitation of the desert, the people who live there and their history.
The sound track by Tom Challenger adds a genuine desert atmosphere to the visuals though is sometimes a bit jarring. Also jarring are the overly self conscious 'chapter headings' that break up the film into ten sections. Ten feels too many sections for a relatively short film and the headings break the meditative flow of the film.
This multilayered film offers two simultaneous mediations on the desert, the visual landscape and the spoken history. It feels like a fitting, contrasting companion piece to The Challenge (also showing at the film festival and which I reviewed here).
(A Distant Echo was adapted from the 1969 Egyptian film A Night of Counting the Years / Al-Mummia
directed by Shadi Abdel Salam.)
A Distant Echo is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at: 1810 Tuesday 27 June and 1810 Thursday 29 June both at Odeon Lothian Road. You can book tickets here.
here are links to the other films I've seen in the festival:
God's Own Country.
Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).
Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).
Leaning into the Wind.
Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.