Thursday, February 9, 2012

How I Ended This Summer (2010)

When checking the cast list for the Russian, film, How I Ended This Summer, directed by Aleksey Popogrebskiy, you may be startled to discover that the entire movie comprises of two actors. However, it is perfectly appropriate, as the film's main theme is isolation, and the effects that it can have on a man. Or in this case,  two men.

The story centers around two meteorologists who are based on a vaguely defined Arctic island, working at a desolate meteorological station. It is their job to collect weather data, and relay it back to their superiors through a two-way radio. The voices we hear on the radio are the only other evidence we have of other human existence throughout the entire film.

The movie was shot in Chukcki peninsula, located on the northernmost tip of Asia, and just a short swim through freezing cold waters away from Alaska. The filmmakers spent three months there shooting the film, and just like the characters in the story, were subjected to an isolated landscape full of of snowy mountains, dense fog and the occasional polar bear.

The characters include Pavel (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a young meteorologist who is new in the field. With his wavy, bleached hair and pierced ears, he looks like someone you'd expect to see stalking out females at club, rather than a meteorological station. His partner, meanwhile, is Sergey (Sergey Pusekaplis), the seasoned veteran who has been doing it for years.

The two represent complete foils. One young, one old, one with with experience, one not, and one with a family, the other single. It's a match you may expect to see in an NBC sitcom, but, in this case, alone on a desolate island, the mismatched relationship is a deep cause for tension. To get an idea, just imagine yourself stuck on an island with somebody who you have absolutely nothing in common with.

Grigoriy Dobrygin and Sergey Puskepalis.
At first, the movie lets us witness the every doldrums that meteorologists must endure; checking data, copying numbers, measuring wind currents, etc. We are also subjected to such words as telemetry, Geiger counters, isotope beacons, roentgens and heliographs. But never mind the meteorological jargon, it's all just a way of subtlety easing us into the lifestyle. It's not meant to be riveting.

Sergey, the seasoned veteran, is tough on Pavel. Often yelling and scolding him, he expects perfection, which only adds to the dissension between the two. But after about half-an-hour, however, something happens to break the monotony. While Sergey is out fishing, Pavel receives an urgent radio message, relaying urgent personal news that Sergey must be made aware of immediately. It is up to Pavel to break the news to the man that he hardly knows, and who, in a way, scares him. Even when Sergey returns shortly later, Pavel just can't find the right time to tell him.

From then on, How I Ended This Summer becomes a psychological study. We begin to enter the minds of the characters, wondering what exactly we would do if we were in their situations. The extended isolation undoubtedly has taken its toll on the character's decision-making, and the effects unravel throughout the course of the film. And before we know it, How I Ended This Summer becomes a story of survival.

Very little is said during the film, but it doesn't need to be. The looks and facial expressions of Dobygrin and Puskepalis give us more than words could ever do. The characters are alone, with no one to talk to, so it only serves the viewer right that we should be devoid of communication as well.

Isolation prevails in How I Ended This Summer.
The film isn't short, sitting at a little over two hours. Extended scenes are devoted simply towards shots of the wilderness. Popogrebskiy, with the aid of cinematographer Pavel Kostomarov chooses to linger on these shots, sometimes holding it for 10, 15, even 20 seconds at a time. But it's worth it, as the arctic scenery is nothing short of stunning. And even with characters on screen, we are still exposed to lengthy silence. Some may find it dull, but for others, it'll prove that you don't need eerie music or flashy effects to create suspense.

It's the complete antithesis of paradise, but How I Ended This Summer will take you places that you never intended to go, and will make you simultaneously wish that you spend your own summer in a much warmer, integrated location.

~ Review by Ddubbs

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