Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Flickcrit: How I Ended This Summer

"Against the haunting backdrop of an Arctic outpost, 2 men with fiery tempers ignite in a deadly conflict. A handsome newcomer threatens the hostile veteran amidst thick fog, sharp rocks, and the merciless Arctic Sea."

A film of 124 minutes featuring only two characters needs to have something special going for it. Alexei Popogrebsky’s How I Ended This Summer has both first class performances and stunning photography of its remote location.

It is dominated by its amazing physical environment – a meteorological outpost on the Arctic Sea. He has used the Russian Valkarkai Polar Station as the setting for an intense drama between two men and two generations.

Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis) is the middle-aged old-hand, obsessively committed to the routines of reporting daily weather readings. The work also involves monitoring a Soviet era radioactive relic. That task goes to his assistant Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin). He is a twentysomething novice on a summer job who is more interested in video games than keeping meticulous records.

Although Dobrygin is also a novice, his film debut is impressive. He more than matches the intensity of his older colleague.

This movie is classed as a psychological thriller, which suits writer/director Popogrebsky who majored in Psychology at Moscow State University. It is a clash of personalities, values and generations. On top of this, the extreme environment plays a not insignificant part as one of the protagonists.

The slow pace in the first half of the film creates the necessary mood of isolation and establishes the fear that Pavel has for the unbalanced Sergei. When Pavel withholds bad news it is because he dreads that the older man will tip into uncontrolled rage and violence. The decision backfires, of course, and his summer faces a nightmare ending. Pavel starts to join Sergei on the dark side.

Unfortunately, the second half takes too long to build to its climax. The film could have been shortened considerably by tighter direction and editing. It is too mono-paced. Nevertheless, How I Ended This Summer is worth a visit to the cinema.

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