How I Ended this Summer
(Как я провёл этим летом)

How I ended this summer

How I Ended this Summer (Как я провёл этим летом)
Made in: Russia
Language: Russian
Director: Alexei Popogrebski
Starring: Sergei Puskepalis, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Igor Csernyevics, Ilya Sobolev, Artyom Tsukanov, a polar bear
Year: 2010

Synopsis: On an isolated Russian island somewhere in the Arctic Circle, Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis), a meteorologist, lives and works with his young assistant Pavel (aka Pasha, played by Grigoriy Dobrygin).

The work they do is never fully explained, but has to do with taking sensitive radiation and weather readings (I think). The data they collect has to be taken at specific times of the day, and is then transmitted to meteorologists at another station via regular radio calls.

Although the job is vital, it is mostly tedious and incredibly dull. The mostly humorless Sergei takes the job seriously, as it is pretty much his life's work. It appears that he's spent most of his professional life at that arctic post, and follows a very strict routine.

Pasha, on the other hand, (whom we Westerners might identify as a student intern), spends most of his downtime playing online video games, listening to rock music, and generally running around and slacking off. On more than several occasions, Sergei has to get him back in line.

While Sergei is away on an unauthorized fishing trip, Pasha is left in charge of the ramshackle arctic station. He gets a radio call informing him that Sergei's wife and young son have been in a horrible accident, and that Sergei is to be shipped off the island as soon as a vessel can be sent to fetch them.

Disturbed by the news, Pasha writes down the message. When he misses several crucial data readings due to oversleeping, Pasha scrambles to fudge the data in his log book (just as Sergei returns). He doesn't tell Sergei the serious news either. Again, it's not 100% clear as to why.

The cover-up compels Pasha to tell more lies, and then the situation comes to a breaking point...sort of.

Remarks: How I Ended this Summer is very well-filmed. The cinematography is gorgeous, and we even get to see a polar bear!

There are only two main characters, and both actors do a great job. How I Ended this Summer is clearly a foreign film intended for art-house aficionados, but director Alexei Popogreski seems to have mainstream viewers in mind by his use of pop culture references (rock music, video games, etc).

But those references serve to build Pasha's character and drive the story, rather than being pandering non-sequiters.

Popogreski also does a convincing job creating a sense of bleak isolation, and the viewers will really get the sense that they're stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

Subtlety and nuance are two important ingredients that make artistic films effective. But in the case of How I Ended the Summer, there are almost too many unanswered questions.

For instance, there is an "isotope beacon," which is large metal thing sitting on a ridge somewhere. Pasha goes up there every once in a while to take readings with a Geiger counter. The beacon is apparently emitting radiation into the atmosphere. But WHY is it there? What does it do? Is this part of some sort of environmental message? Some sort of secret experiment?

I suppose it could be there for purposes of experimentation but since it's clearly radioactive, I find it surprising that they'd allow a guy like Pasha near it.

What many viewers might find frustrating about How I Ended this Summer is the motivation behind Pasha's decision to not tell Sergei the serious news about Sergei's family. I suppose there are a number of possible explanations, but within the context of what Popogreski shows us there are no satisfying answers or refutations to the viewer who stands up (like me), shakes his fist at the screen, and yells: "JUST TELL HIM!"

Who would like this film: How I Ended this Summer is for you if you really enjoy foreign films, art house cinema, and movies that are really, really open to interpretation (and movies that are slow).

The characters are strong, but many of the ambiguities (whether intentional or otherwise) will be puzzling, unsatisfying, (and really frustrating) to many. Yet those same ambiguities can also be used as arguments by those who believe the film is a masterpiece.

I'd recommend this one to film connoisseurs and film scholars, but not so much for the average movie fan.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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