Those crazy days of summer
IF, IN mischievous mood, you set out to construct a scenario that parodied the archetypal Russian art movie, you could do worse than imagine a story involving two men growling at one another in an Arctic weather station.
Sure enough, Alexei Popogrebsky’s extraordinary film features its fair share of (pun intended) glacially leisurely shots. If a character spies something interesting on the horizon, you can be sure the camera will sit calmly while he makes his stubbornly unedited journey.
Featuring clean digital photography by Pavel Kostomarov, augmented by eerie wind-scoured sound design, the film sometimes has the hypnotic quality of a superior art installation. But there is also a gripping story at its icy heart. The station is staffed by Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin), a young, irresponsible graduate, and Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis), a grumpy veteran. While the older man assiduously tabulates data, his assistant frolics about the beach while listening to indie rock on headphones.
The tense relationship – very much that between weary father and errant son – comes to a head when, while Sergei is out fishing, Pavel receives a message detailing awful news about his colleague’s family. Still at an age where procrastination jumps out as the first option, Pavel can’t bring himself to relay the message. As the endless summer days progress, his efforts to conceal the truth become ever more self-defeating. Eventually, a violent confrontation ensues.
Despite the simplicity of the story, How I Ended This Summer offers many resonant undercurrents. The relationship between the stoic, dedicated veteran and the dissolute, videogame-addicted tyro says something about the social changes that have struck Russia over the past 20 years. The film investigates how lazy obfuscation – the sort we make everyday – can lead inexorably to ghastly catastrophes.
How I Ended the Summer, a moral fable that might appeal to Dostoevsky, is among the best films released this year.