How I Ended This Summer
Alexei Popogrebsky / Russia / 2010
Catching cabin fever beneath an open landscape seems contrary. Depicting it so even more odd. With a whole arctic island to explore across the brief summer how could one even contemplate loosing it.
Yet itís the central conceit of Alexei Popogrebsky two-hander How I Ended This Summer. This mixture of inside and outside concepts drips through this Russian film from the loud music junior meteorologist Pavel blasts out on his mp3 player as he jumps around barren vistas to an isotope generator emitting radiation ever outwards. Even the charactersí connection to the wide outside world comes through a small radio. Their whole world, hopes, fears and experiences, derive from a box. Gallingly for a Westerner writing about a Russian work the only way to describe this is to resort to mentioning Russian Dolls...
Marooning two weathermen on an isolated arctic island leads to conflict when the younger of the pair withholds information from his senior colleague.
Pavel (played by Grigory Dobrygin) is a college graduate there for the summer to give him something to say heís done. In between taking endless measurements he literally plays around by jumping between barrels or playing shooter games on his computer. Again the inside-outside mash crop up here as Pavel must always carry a gun outside in case he meets a polar bear. The violent games he plays are no longer mere escapism. Older hand Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis, father of the lead of Popogrebskyís previous Koktebel) gruffly gets on with business, preserving the traditions of the weather station yet still finding time to slope off to go trout fishing for a couple days.
Quickly establishing Pavel from the get-go as the junior Popogrebsky stacks up an internal drama amidst beautifully captured arctic scenery. The drama comes from Pavel withholding news of a family emergency from Sergei in a kind of reverse cry wolf situation. With only two characters and the voices on the radio the setup would fit a stage well. Except that the landscapes perversely allow the viewer to brood introspectively. In this case the only way to capture the widening gulf between Pavel and Sergei is to do nothing but stare right out there. Once the relationship deteriorates to violent levels then the weather can moodily turn.
Nicely ambiguous, when the characters do start to fight itís not quite clear whether they mean to really do each other harm. In true arthouse narrative convention How I Ended This Summer definitely has the feel of an extended or unconventional storyline with the obligatory extra act; something the 130 minute running time supports.
Fundamentally though the conflict (and How I Ended This Summer as a whole) hinges on whether the audience believes if Pavel could really not tell Sergei some bad family news. Pavel certainly comes across as juvenile through the script and Dobryginís performance supports this. And certainly once it goes so far then you are co-opted into Pavelís secret. But getting to that point requires a little more than faith in callow youth to screw up.