How I Ended This Summer

How I Ended This Summer

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
New Wave Films 

Release date: April 22nd 2011
Certificate (UK): 12A
Running time: 130 mins
Original language: Russian with English subtitles

Director: Aleksei Popogrebsky

Cast: Grigoriy Dobrygin, Sergei Puskepalis, Igor Chernevich, Ilya Sobolev, Artyom Tsukanov

Written and directed by Alexei Popogrebsky, How I Ended This Summer is a study of a relationship between two men in extraordinary circumstances and how fear and isolation can, both literally and figuratively, be toxic to the mind.

A sparse cast of two, Sergei (Segei Puskepalis) and Pavel (a break out role for Grigory Dobrygin) are meteorologists posted on a remote Arctic island. For months at a time, the only contact they have with the outside world is via the radio they use for daily observations with the mainland. Sergei, seasoned and dedicated, attempts to instil in recent graduate Pavel the importance of their work and the dangers of their environment: ‘Say “oops” to the polar bear’, Sergei warns when Pavel leaves the base without his rifle.

How I Ended This Summer

A tentative father–son friendship begins to grow between the two men. Sergei demands respect but remains extremely likeable throughout the film. Gruff and seemingly uneasy with expressing emotion, Sergei performs acts of kindness instead of vocalising them.

Pavel, struggling with the isolation of the island, seeks comfort in his mp3 player and playing video games and treats his new home somewhat like a playground. Gaining trust and responsibility, he steps up to be the man that Sergei demands, and accepts the perks that come along with this. A scene in the sauna is both touching, amusing, showing Sergei’s depth for humanity and Pavel’s vulnerability.

Taking a break from the monotony of their routine, Sergei leaves the base for a three day fishing trip, and here follows Pavel’s biggest test. From the mainland, he receives a devastating message concerning Sergei’s young wife and son on the mainland. As Sergei returns from his trip, Pavel must pass on this message. However, as the complex, unequal relationship they have appears to be rooted in fear, he is unable to do so.

How I Ended This Summer

What begins as a slow burner ramps up into a psychological thriller which leaves the audience squirming at the screen and barely resisting the urge to shout out to Pavel as he stands only to make it worse for himself.

Cue one heartbreaking SMS that Sergei transcribes over the radio for his wife, unaware of what has happened to her.

As the truth is revealed, misunderstandings and strong reactions layer up and soon, the situation between the two friends gets dangerously out of hand.

How I Ended This Summer

Gloriously sparse, the geographical and social isolation is captured through long shots, wide angles, the only decoration being a bobbing iceberg or the remains of an abandoned cabin clinging to the rocks at the water’s edge.

Arguably a third character in itself, the inescapability of the environment is a pressure cooker in which Sergei and Pavel must ride out the storm, figuratively and literally.

The dialogue is to the point, never overindulging or unnecessary, making for a film that heads straight for the point, much like the characters themselves. How I Ended This Summer is a film that, like the cold, penetrates under the skin and remains there.

An affecting piece of cinema, it warms and breaks the heart, it is both a thriller and a psychological horror, with a real, wrenching relationship at the core. Never again will a ‘smailik’ be just that.


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