Published Sep 03, 2010Unfolding more as a natural exploration of man and his environment than an exercise in didactics or allegory, it's no surprise that How I Ended This Summer director Alexei Popogrebsky (having studied psychology) was curious to examine the effects of isolation and was inspired by diaries left behind after a failed mission to the Arctic Circle.
His tale of two men working in Northern Siberia, taking radiation readings on an unexploded shell and studying other meteorological effects in the North, takes its time to unfold, documenting the quotidian, along with the chilling tension inside and out of the cramped hut in which they live.
Veteran technician Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis) is the more domineering of the two, having age and experience on his side. He tells Pavel (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a student taking a summer experience job for essay credit, when he can sleep, work, bathe and even eat. It's a logical introductory power dynamic, given the living conditions and life-threatening weather and environment surrounding them, but after some time, it compounds into resentment and paranoia.
With their expedition coming to an end, Sergei goes AWOL for a while to catch some arctic trout to take home to his family. All is fine until Pavel receives some disturbing news from headquarters that he fears giving to his volatile elder, which is where the impending conflict of the film stems from.
While Pavel deliberately hides the truth, there is an unnerving sense of unease that gives this seemingly simple narrative a thriller edge. A rising storm outside exacerbates this, as do the constant reminders of extreme isolation and limited survival options. Popgrebsky is as concerned with capturing the stark environment, free from social laws and customs, as he is the unspoken reactions of each man and their perceptions of a scenario never articulated.
It's quite the feat, this film, running over two hours in one location with only two actors, but it works as a psychological thriller due to sharp performances and a refusal to cater to template contrivances. While subtle, there is something quite profound here that will mean something different to each viewer. (Film Movement)