In embracing contemporary Russian cinema’s mainstream sensibilities, Popogrebsky has turned a potential modern classic into a US remake in waiting.
Aleksei Popogrebsky’s icy slow-burner is an education in the shifting tide of Russian cinema. Playing out over the course of a long, cruel Arctic summer, where the sun incessantly circumnavigates the horizon, this valentine to Andrei Tarkovsky and Aleksandr Sokurov deals in reflexivity and metaphysics. But while haunting time-lapse sequences and aging long shots capture the bleak solitude of a bygone era, the film’s chief protagonist is the personification of twenty-first-century Russian ideals.
He’s Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin), a wiry upstart stationed at a remote meteorological research facility with a hardened Soviet throwback named Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis). While the latter rarely looks beyond continuing the work pioneered by his ancestors, his fidgety apprentice is well versed in MP3 and FPS procrastination.
But Sergei’s not entirely blind to the unceasing tedium of their circumstances, and so in a gesture of paternal compassion he leaves his post and sets out across the crisp ocean waves for a spot of trout fishing. On his three-day trip, Sergei will land a handsome catch, but in this time he will lose something much dearer to him.
During a scheduled transmission with the mainland, Pavel receives a distressing radiogram: Sergei’s family have been involved in a fatal accident. It’s his duty to relay the message, but before Sergei’s return the weight of the world will bear down on
Pavel’s already fragile mind. It is here that Popogrebsky switches focus away from the whitewashed panoramas of the Arctic wilderness to the utilitarian cabin the pair have shared for several months. In closer quarters we feel Pavel’s dilemma thrash and fester inside him. Clock hands mock with their metronomic conviction. Radio static becomes increasingly deafening.
This is Russian cinema in the traditional mould, yet in its final third How I Ended This Summer will concede its subtle, visceral atmosphere for more full-blooded dramatic tricks. In ratcheting up the suspense and embracing contemporary Russian cinema’s mainstream sensibilities, Popogrebsky has turned a potential modern classic into a US remake in waiting.
Voted Best Film at the 2010 London Film Festival.
An exquisitely composed tale marred by mainstream aspirations.
Popogrebsky’s film eloquently typifies Russian cinema’s current frame of mind.