How I Ended This Summer (2010) dir. Aleksei Popogrebsky
Starring: Grigoriy Dobrygin, Sergei Puskepalis
By Alan Bacchus
When the Russians do tragedy, it’s very tragic. In this austere festival film, we’re in the point of view of an affable and truly bored Russian meteorologist student Pavel stationed in the frigid and lonely Arctic circle for the summer. When he’s not following the orders of his hardass boss Sergei he spends his days (nope, there’s no nighttime) like an immature child, listening to his I-Pod, playing video games and goofing around with anything he can find in the area.
But when Pavel receives some tragic news about Sergei, the fear of Sergei’s rage prevents him from relaying the message. From there it’s a battle of Pavel’s psychological fears, needlessly avoiding Sergei, which obsessantly manifests itself into a life and death cat and mouse chase around the base.
It’s sparse affair, one of those slow burners, complimenting the endless days and mind-numbing isolation with a similar cinematic style. A languid pace with cold and stark wide shots emphasizing the effect of the environment on it’s characters. That sort of thing.
It’s not quite a Tarkovsky world though, as the one key story beat is enough to fuel some surprisingly strong internal and external conflict, which snowballs like a Greek Tragedy into something as emotional, cathartic and wholly satisfying.
As mentioned, after establishing the tempestuous relationship of the workmanlike curmudgeon and the carefree student, the shoe drops when Pavel receives the untimely news about Sergei's family. But why doesn’t Pavel tell Sergei. It’s this moment of miscommunication which by cause and effect snowballs into Pavel’s madness. It’s not hard to understand Pavel’s fear. His immaturity, social inhibitions and complete fear of authority causes Pavel to delay telling his boss the news. Careful choices of words in the dialogue and the reactions of the actors to each other makes this all believable.
Eventually Sergei learns the truth, which causes an even greater disruption between the two. Pavel flees Sergei, thinking he might kill him. Will he or won’t he? He probably won’t but because we’re in Pavel’s now deranged point of view we understand his paranoid flight to safety.
At all times we’re sympathetic to Pavel, we identify with his innocence and naivety and immaturity and so his downfall in the third act, which is partly accidental, is completely heartbreaking. The two actors Grigoriy Dobrygin and Sergei Puskepalis, got well deserved recognition, co-winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for Best Actor.
'How I Ended This Summer' was the November DVD of the Month from Film Movement Canada. Click HERE for more info.