I came to this one a little late but I’m glad I got a chance to catch it on the big screen, as the location is central to the story, however that shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of this involving tale. Aleksei Popogrebsky’s third feature is set in a meteorological station on a small island in the Arctic Ocean, where the sun never sets. The two-man crew of this once important station are the older, experienced Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis) and young hipster graduate Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin), or Pasha as he’s more often referred to. Sergei is an old-school Meteorologist who prefers collecting and collating data by hand; Pavel seems more au fait with modern technology and prefers to be hunched over his computer, while metal/indie-rock music pumps out of his headphones. The men send daily updates of their stats to a central base over a crackly radio which pops, whistles and whines as huge waves break on the shore outside.
Naturally in an isolated environment where days stretch on interminably and where the precise, repetitive work duties bleed from one day into the next, tempers can get a little frayed. Almost from the start Sergei is less than happy with Pasha’s approach to work, the younger man prefers to idle his time away, when not working, exploring the island, running and jumping around the deserted landscape to the pumping soundtrack on his mp3 player. This is a slow-burn narrative which takes time to establish the characters and their work environment, giving us scant information on the pair through the parceling of small details. We learn that Sergei has been coming to this small station for many years, and enjoys the wild man existence of his time there; while Pasha is there for work experience and for the purpose of completing his final year college thesis, which gives us the film’s title.
Soon enough though, events conspire to make Pasha’s tenure on the island a living hell. A message of huge personal importance comes through from the central base for Sergei while he is out fishing, and for one reason or another Pasha neglects to pass it on to him. This sets in motion a tense, psychological conflict between the two men and as Sergei finally learns the content of the message, his attention turns to his co-worker.
I have to be honest and say that for roughly the last third of this film, it became less “How I Ended This Summer ” and more “How Am I Going to End This Film”. A tighter edit in the last 30 minutes or so would have kept intact the tautness so carefully woven into the narrative, but aside from that one small gripe, this is a film that grips from the outset. Special mention must go the Sound Design and Cinematography; the soundtrack blends beautifully and mesmerically with the static interference of the radio and the noise of the sea outside, creating an hypnotic daydream-like quality. Pavel Kostomarov’s wonderful cinematography makes fantastic use of the amazing, almost otherworldly landscape and a colour palette of metallic blues and copper browns gives a suitably cold, wintry feel. Popogrebsky also utilises a series of beautiful time-lapse shots to act almost as visual interludes between certain scenes; but actually they work to put us in the headspace of the characters, as we too start to feel our grasp of time slipping away; or maybe that was just the overheated cinema playing tricks on my mind.
You can see the trailer below