How I Ended This Summer
Directed by Alexei Popogrebsky
Nature as a coming-of-age test is a story as old as cave paintings—and one which probably ends in failure more often than is generally told. In How I Ended This Summer, a young man and an inscrutable, skillful older man, both mentor and rival, work at a remote outpost: the film was shot at the real weather station (and abandoned military radar base, with forest of rusted oil drums) in Chukotka, Siberia's easternmost region. Writer-director Aleksei Popogrebsky favors time-lapsed long shots of clouds and fog rolling across the forbidding permafrost, while Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin) and Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis) take barometer and helioscope readings, diligently recording inscrutable numbers with Soviet-era analog equipment. All human endeavor seems petty, already voided by the landscape's prehistoric grandeur.
Against the existential backdrop, Popogrebsky logs telling psychological detail. Pavel cocoons in headphones (favoring big-sky instrumental rock), and Sergei teaches the kid how to gut an Arctic trout. What Pavel's doing there is never fully explained, but judging from Sergei's derisory snorts it appears to be a summer job—Popogrebsky parcels out information like an iced-in explorer trying to make his supply of canned beans last the winter. For his part, Pavel is so cowed that he too withholds a crucial bit of exposition, for the movie's entire second act.
Once the news breaks, this two-hander's endgame plays out like "The Most Dangerous Game"; like the first-person shooter games Pavel plays during downtime, it's tensely subjective. But as Popogrebsky has shown us the communication breakdowns in the lead-up, it's also bleakly funny for the same reasons—a wasteful by-product of limited comprehension. The film gets its title from an essay Sergei mockingly suggests Pavel will write when he returns to civilization—but if indeed he will, there's a lot he'll probably leave out.
Opens February 4