Those crazy days of sum­mer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

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.

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