How I Ended This Summer
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On a desolate island in the Arctic Circle, two men work at a small meteorological station, taking readings from their radioactive surroundings. Sergei, a gruff professional in his fifties, takes his job very seriously. His new partner, bright eyed college grad Pavel, retreats to his MP3 player and video games to avoid Sergei's imposing presence. One day while Sergei is out, inexperienced Pavel receives terrible news for Sergei from HQ. Intimidated, Pavel can't bring himself to disclose the information. When the truth is finally revealed, the consequences explode against a chilling backdrop of thick fog, sharp rocks, and the merciless Arctic Sea.
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Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis, star of Popogrebsky's earlier film "Simple Things") is an experienced professional, grim as the Arctic mountains around him, but thoroughly dedicated to his work. Younger meteorologist Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin) joins him at the station for a few months, equipped with video games, MP3 player and IT skills. Sergei is domineering and tough, treating Pavel more like a military in training, than a colleague.
One day in Sergei's absence Pavel receives dreadful news from the base station that would change the course of their lives and put to the test the very essence of humanity.
A truthful, clever deconstruction of human's behavior, consciousness and kindness versus weakness and cowardice.
The DVD comes with a terrific short film from Bosnia, First Day of Peace, a heart-breaking expose of the absurd, senseless horror of war.
"How I Ended This Summer" (130 min.; originally released in 2010) is an excellent psychological drama, Russian style. The story's premise seems simple enought. Two men, Sergei in a senior and Pavel in a junior position, work at an isolated meteorological station on an Arctic island. While Sergei is on an unauthorized fishing trip, Pavel is informed that Sergei's family has been in an accident. Pavel is supposed to tell this to Sergei, but he does not. Things evolve from there, and I'm not going say much more about the story, but hang on to your seat for the last hour or so of the movie, just fantastic. Aside of the story line, major kudos for the photography of this film, which is just outstanding, bringing the isolation of the Artic beautifully. Completely aside, some of the movie's tone and texture reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie "The Shining".
In all, I loved this movie, and it attests to the great movies that come out of Russia on occasion. I will immediately add that this movie isn't for everyone. The first hour of the movie moves at snail's pace, MILES away from your standard Hollywood mainstream fare. If that doesn't scare you away, by all means, check this movie out, you won't be disappointed.
Ah, Russia. Land of vodka, cold weather, dour poets, cold weather, beautiful women who turn into withered peasants seemingly overnight an very freaking cold weather. You ever wonder why they sold Alaska to us? Because who needed even more cold land?
This latest release from Film Movement takes place on a remote island in the far North Eastern part of Russia. The island is home to a small weather monitoring station maned long-term by Sergei and short-term by Pasha. Sergei is a man in his fifties who seems to be made of rock and Pasha looks like your basic graduate student living on the tundra to accumulate life experience. That they are not a great match is something of a given.
One day Sergei receives word his wife and young son are flying to a nearby area to meet him. He's cheerful after this news and decides to go out fishing for a day. While he's gone, Pasha receives unhappy news that comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen a movie before. This news would be devastating to Sergei, so Pasha tries to hide it, first out of an effort to spare the man's feelings, and then out of simple fear. Needless to say, he's not able to keep this news secret forever and soon things take an unpleasant turn...
This was a very good movie. I've not seen much Russian cinema, basically only this and Russian Ark, but I really liked it. The director did a very good job of showing the coldness, isolation and uncertainty on an island where at any minute you can be eaten by a polar bear or freeze or starve.
I do feel that the director could have trimmed 10 - 15 minutes of shots from the film and tightened it up considerably. There's a shot that takes about three minutes that's nothing of a man walking into a gradually clearing fogbank, and while that was great for setting the scene, it did go on a bit. And while there were certain things in the film that I didn't really understand (like the presence of a large, radiation emitting device that doesn't really get explained), I still really enjoyed the movie.
Like I said, I haven't seen much Russian cinema, but if much of it is like this, it sounds like I have a lot of catching up to. A really great film!
Sergei Gulybin (played by Sergei Puskepalis) is big, silent and experienced. He's served at this station before. He has a wife and child he rarely sees. He's in his late forties or early fifties and has little respect or patience for Pavel Danilov (Grigory Dobrygin), just out of college. Here's old Russia, stolid, doing a job without questioning its worth, aware of all the others who spend their lives doing the same job because once the job had value. And new Russia, a bit sloppy, bored, uneasy with old Russia, not quite knowing where he stands.
Into this world of unremitting drabness and cold, where all communication with the outside world is by static-filled two way radio. Pavel receives a message to deliver to Sergei, who has left the station to fish for arctic trout. The message involves Sergei's wife and child, and Pavel cannot bring himself to deliver it. From here on Pavel descends into guilt and then fear, and Sergei, when he finally learns of the message, erupts. Convinced that Sergei will kill him, Pavel flees the cabin to face two daunting questions: How to survive the Arctic cold and how to survive Sergei. Pavel might have to find a way to kill Sergei.
How I Ended This Summer is not an adventure movie. Paranoia and fear may or may not be justified. By the time we reach the end we've come to understand these two and how fragile our minds make us. In an unsettling twist, however, their survival may not last long.
The movie almost drifts along at first. We have the time to appreciate the beauty and the desolation in which the two men find themselves. There is an explicit and lengthy lesson in how to gut and dry Arctic trout. We shift our initial impressions of the men and of the kind of story we're watching. The movie hooks us as we realize the misunderstandings and their consequences (At least, I was.)
I finished the movie glad I took a chance on it.
For some, How I Ended This Summer might bear a resemblance to Zero Kelvin, a fine Swedish movie with a similar premise but a different outcome. It features Stellan Skarsgard, sullen, violent and unrecognizable.