A superior thinking boy’s own adventure.
Those who have seen Alexei Popogrebsky’s Koktebel (2003) will have some idea of what to expect from his new film, How I Ended This Summer. Exquisitely framed images of the natural world (an Arctic coastline in Northern Russia) not only provide a dramatic backdrop to the tale, but also mirror the internal complexities of the two protagonists. Popogrebsky is a skilful visual storyteller, and he trusts his audience to negotiate their way through the film with a minimum of explanation. This extends to what may strike some viewers as rather strangely motivated behaviour, especially from the younger man, Pasha (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who lets the disapproving irascibility of Gulybin (Sergei Puskepalis) intimidate him to the point where a series of relatively small errors leads him to unwittingly conceal important news from the older man. Pasha’s dilemma compounds, tension escalates, and Popogrebsky treats us to a highly cinematic game of cat and mouse, with Pasha thrown into a real-life version of the shoot-em-up computer games he loves to play.
Central to the narrative development (and ultimate meaning of the film) is the theme of miscommunication. The poor radio link between the isolated men and the mainland mirrors the communicative dysfunction between the two. The toxic relationship of the men and the radioactive pollution of their environment are implicitly linked, a metaphor that speaks to our treatment of the planet—and, of course, each other. There is little doubt that if it comes to a face-off between man and nature, our planet has a significant advantage. We may ruin our chances of survival, but the Earth will endure. In this light, the title (which comes from a mocking and deliberately ungrammatical comment from Gulybin) could suggest a quite different meaning.
How I Ended This Summer has a very deliberate pace. It requires patience to begin with, but Popogrebsky’s sure hand builds intensity with impressive expertise. The outstanding digital cinematography (by Pavel Kostomarov) has a remarkable film-stock feel to it, giving the images a beautiful, almost tactile textural quality. Great to look at, very well acted, intelligently constructed with thoughtful philosophical overtones, Popogrebsky’s psychological thriller is a superior thinking boy’s own adventure. Well worth a look.