' Cinema Romantico: How I Ended This Summer

Monday, September 10, 2012

How I Ended This Summer

Time must move awfully slow in the arctic. And that is how time seems to move at some sort of shabby Russian meteorological station on the northern edge of nowhere – slowly, with a sun that never sets and a wind that always howls. Two men are stationed here for vague reasons. They transmit data at intervals via two way radio. Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis), older, hulking, appears to have been here off and on for years. Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin), younger, is a student, or this is what we assume when Sergei chastises him as only wanting to be here on account of some fancy-pants essay he is supposedly authoring titled How I Ended This Summer. Sergei also chastises him for taking down lazy data. Why is it lazy? The movie never says, not once, and this quietly underscores the purposelessness of this whole venture.


Little is ever said, either in the form of the film’s larger picture or for character clarification. Glimpses are revealed, barely, here and there, and instead the audience is asked to immerse itself in the frosty atmosphere and the monotonous routine of these two men in a place that most of their countrymen and women seem to have forgot, if they ever knew it existed. Both men try to soothe their slowly fraying nerves. Pavel blasts music through his earphones. Sergei vanishes for days at a time to catch trout. The most telling words are spoken when Sergei matter-of-factly recounts the story of two men formerly stationed in the same place and how eventually guns were drawn. The meaning is clear: madness awaits.

When Sergei is off in search of fish, a call comes in. Something terrible has happened to his family. Pavel is instructed to relay this information. A ship is on its way to get them out, but ice may impede its progress. Pavel, however, cannot bring himself to tell Sergei and goes to great lengths to conceal it. At first brush the viewer may wonder why he doesn’t just say what he knows but the film has been laboriously and perfectly constructed to make us worry for Pavel’s sanity and safety. If he confesses, there is no telling what may come.

“How I Ended This Summer” is a slow-build that does not so much erupt into something all-out thrilling as turn, jarringly, in a breathtaking shot in which one man turns toward the other man, into something psychologically suspenseful. And even then it chooses not to conclude horrifically, but poignantly in just about the darkest, strangest way possible.

I don't know that it's a hell of a ride in the traditional sense of the term but, nevertheless, it's a hell of a ride.

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