Review: How I Ended This Summer


Directed by: Aleksei Popogrebsky
Written by:Aleksei Popogrebsky
Starring: Grigory Dobrygin, Sergei Puskepali
Released: April 7, 2011
Grade: B

I’ve reviewed a lot of movies over the past two decades but I’m not sure I’ve seen one filmed on the Chukotka Peninsula, the easternmost tip of Russia.  The average temperature during summer is a “balmy” 6oC.  In winter, the average is a ridiculously low -19oC.  How anyone can endure those conditions is a mystery to me.

It’s clear that director Alexi Popogrebsky enjoys a challenge.  He’s always been fascinated by polar conditions and so he decided to write a story set in such a location.  It features just two people - Pavel (Dobrygin) and Sergei (Puskepalis).  They work at a meteorological station in this incredibly isolated part of the world.

Their job couldn’t be more boring.  They simply read the weather instruments and then radio the results through to their head office.  That’s about it.  To help pass the time, Sergei goes ice fishing and Pavel plays video games.  There isn’t much more they can do.  There’s no internet, no television and no mobile phone coverage.

You might think that these guys would share some interesting conversations to pass the time but not so.  They’re as different as chalk and cheese.  Sergei goes about his day in a strict, disciplined manner.  He’s been doing it for years and has never made a mistake.  Pavel is less enthusiastic.  It’s a summer job for him and he can’t wait to get back to home.  His disinterest is obvious.

The uneasy relationship between the two deteriorates further after Pavel fails to pass on an important radio message.  Instead of admitting to the mistake, Pavel tries to cover it up.  It sets off a series of events that will develop into something far more serious…

I’ve not convinced there’s enough material to drag this story out into two hours but the film is to be admired for its setting.  Popogrebsky and his crew spent three months shooting the film at an actual weather station in middle of nowhere.  The nearest town was a five hour ride by caterpillar transporter – the only means of transportation.  If you think the actors look tired and forlorn, that’s probably because they were!

I realise the lack of action will be a turn-off for some filmgoers but it’s nice to see this small, unconventional Russian film getting a release in Australia.