Having already won several awards, the Russian psychological drama How I Ended This Summer explores the harsh affects that isolation and grief can have on men. While being a picturesque film, it is also a drawn out Man versus Nature story with minimal plot.
Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin), a happy-go-lucky young man right out of uni, is assigned to work at a remote meteorological station in the desolate Arctic Circle. His older, bitter boss Seigei (Sergei Puskepalis) instantly dislikes Pavel’s carefree attitude towards his work and life, causing instant friction between them. Matters only get worse as a bad storm approaches, anticipating them for hard times ahead. Even more troubling is when Pavel receives a radio message that Seigei’s family has been killed in a car accident, and not having the heart to tell Seigei about his family’s fate, he drags it out for way too long, resulting in dire consequences for him.
The above plot description gives away part of what happens towards the end of the film, as the story is very slow paced with very little happening much of the time. Though this can be viewed as a huge flaw, it also makes the film realistic. Think about it: nothing would happen in a place like this in real life, so why should it be any different on film? The quietness of the Arctic Circle reflects both the emptiness and the eeriness of the characters’ surroundings, creating a sense of dread and hinting at the dismal events yet to happen. The cinematography is stunning, depicting the aforementioned emptiness and eeriness of the land, while also highlighting the beauty of the vast mountains and the ocean. The upbeat rock song played in the opening credits successfully captures Pavel’s naivety of the harsh realities that await him, though this type of music becomes completely out of place in other parts of the film, breaking the bleak tone the film is trying to set up.
The film is primarily a character driven story of the once handsome, carefree Pavel becoming a paranoid and deprived-looking shell of a man. Feeling the effects of boredom and isolation, Pavel goes from happily going around swinging on moving satellite dishes and jumping on barrels to shooting people in a video game as a way of unleashing his anger over his situation. Pavel and Seigei’s mutual distrust of one another does not affect Seigei in the slightest, yet takes Pavel to breaking point.
Despite the depressing plot, How I Ended This Summer is not all doom and gloom. There is much humour in the generation gap between the two men, ironically a lot of it coming from the dead serious Seigei, such as him not understanding what a smiley face is when having a text message from his wife read to him over the radio, and holding an alarm clock right in Pavel’s face to wake him up. Unfortunately, there are also unintentionally funny scenes too: the yelping Pavel does when scared is akin to a scared puppy, and the moment he starts randomly shaking on the ground while freaking out hilariously looks more like really bad break dancing! How I Ended This Summer will not be everyone’s cup of tea, nor will it be easily accessible to mainstream audiences, but for those who are patient enough to sit through a mostly uneventful film may get something out of this tale of hardship and survival.
Originally published at meapcareers.com.au on Sunday 3 April 2011