HOW I ENDED THIS SUMMER (KAK YA PROVEL ETIM LETOM) (director/writer: Alexei Popogrebsky; cinematographer: Pavel Kostomarov; editor: Ivan Lebedev; music: Dmitry Katkhanov; cast: Grigory Dobrygin (Pavel Danilov ), Sergei Puskepalis (Sergei Gulybin); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Roman Borisevich/Alexander Kushaev; Film Movement; 2010-Russia-in Russian with English subtitles)
“Bleak and unfulfilling psychological thriller set at a Russian meteorological camp on a desolate island in the Arctic Circle.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Russian filmmaker Alexei Popogrebsky (“Simple Things”/”Roads to Koktebel“) is writer-director of this bleak and unfulfilling psychological thriller set at a Russian meteorological camp on Chukotka (in the film the island is called Archym),a desolate island in the Arctic Circle, on Siberia’s northeastern extremity, that’s manned by the gruff fifty-something serious old-school scientist Sergei Gulybin(Sergei Puskepalis) and the frivolous twenty-something iPod-toting new grad student apprentice Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin). The men are the island’s only residents and live in a dilapidated shack and take regular readings of weather conditions with their antiquated equipment from their radioactive surroundings and call it in regularly by radio to the mainland HQ.
The drab setting, the dull work and that the Odd Couple are polar opposites from different generations and have different lifestyles sets an eerie tension in the film’s first half, where not much happens but it seems like some kind of strained father-son relationship is emerging. When an urgent radiogram arrives for Sergei from HQ with bad news about his wife and infant son, for some inexplicable reason Pavel, who was just chewed out by his languid taskmaster boss for his shoddy work and relaying false data to HQ, doesn’t have the nerve to give him the message and because of that the film shifts gears and becomes an unconvincing survivalist film. The contrived plot never kicks in as something credible, so the suspenseful chase scene between the two men (one who can’t change his old ways and the other who fails to act responsibly) over the island’s tundra never becomes tense.
What remains powerful are the haunting images from the hand-held camera, giving the setting a post-apocalyptic look of modern man as an alienated being trying to survive in isolation and in a harsh landscape.
The film’s allegorical message is a heavy-handed one that there’s a split in modern Russia between the old-timers who only know about duty and life’s hardships and the young generation of consumers who are only looking for pleasure and don’t want to be reminded of the past. Whether this is true or not, remains to be seen, but no profundity is reached in a film that is dreary in every turn it takes and in its conclusion is not sure of what it wants to say.
It won the best film award at the 2010 London Film Festival.
REVIEWED ON 1/11/2012 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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