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How I Ended This Summer

[Как я провел этим летом]

Russia, 2010
Color, 124 minutes

Director: Aleksei Popogrebskii
Screenplay: Aleksei Popogrebskii
Cinematography: Pavel Kostomarov
Costumes: Svetlana Mikhailova
Production Design: Genadii Popov
Sound: Vladimir Golovnitskii
Music: Dmitrii Katkhanov
Cast: Grigorii Dobrigyn, Sergei Puskepalis
Producers: Roman Borisevich, Aleksandr Kushaev
Production: Kinokompaniia Koktebel', Telekanal Rossiia
Awards: Golden Eagle (Best Film); BFI London Film Festival (Best Film); Chicago International
Film Festival (Best Film); Berlin International Film Festival (Best Actor: Sergei Puskepalis
and Grigorii Dobrigyn) and Outstanding Artistic Achievement (Pavel Kostomarov).

Like his previous films The Road to Koktebel (made with Boris Khlebnikov) and Simple Things, Aleksei Popogrebskii’s How I Ended This Summer has enjoyed considerable success on the international festival circuit. The consistency of his work has lead Variety to suggest that Popogrebskii is “one of Russia’s most talented, distinctive, and potentially exportable directors.”

How I Ended This Summer follows the day-to-day life of two men working at a polar station on an isolated island off the coast of the northeastern-most point of Siberia. Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis, who also starred in Simple Things) is a hard-working veteran of the station, while Pavel (Grigorii Dobrigyn) is a new arrival. The grinding routine of taking readings and reporting them by radio is interrupted when news arrives that Sergei’s family has died in an accident. Unfortunately, Sergei is on an unauthorized fishing trip and Pavel, who is covering for him, is asked to pass the message along. He has trouble finding the right time to say something, however, and as he waits the presence of the secret builds tension leading to a confrontation that eventually proves to be catastrophic.

As in Simple Things, this film is organized around the elaboration and resolution of a generational conflict between two men (it may be worth noting that no women at all were present during the shooting on location). Here the isolation of these men―nobody else even appears on screen until the closing movement of the film―serves to heighten the contrast between them: Sergei is stern, mechanical, and competent, quietly fulfilling his tasks, while Pavel is playful, digital, and bumbling, passing his time playing computer games and listening to rock music. In his notes to the film, Popogrebskii suggests that the difference between the characters even extends to the way in which they experience space and time. While it is tempting to see the film as a glorification of the particular kind of manliness embodied by Sergei, it is worth remembering that Pavel is the protagonist, clearly indicated by the fact that the camera never leaves his side.

The arctic setting of the film was stunningly shot by Pavel Kostomarov (who also was the cinematographer for Simple Things and Aleksei Uchitel'’s The Stroll) on a RED One digital camera. The claustrophobia of the interiors of the polar station is contrasted with the grandiose beauty of the arctic landscapes, which frequently dwarf the figures of the characters moving within them. Relying heavily on long shots emphasizing the vastness of the setting, Kostomarov (who was awarded a prize at the Berlin International Film Festival for his work) is equally adept at capturing its detail―the textures of the rocky earth or the grain of wood showing through faded paint.

The film evokes the Soviet heroic narrative of arctic exploration―the polar station was built, for example, in 1935 and when scolding Pasha for his laziness Sergei invokes the virtues of the labor performed by their predecessors. This engagement, however, is less an endorsement or critique of this myth than a contemporary attempt to come to terms with it; Popogrebskii frequently cites his childhood fascination with polar exploration as the inspiration for the film. In fact, the film can be seen as a pretext that provided Popogrebskii with an opportunity to embark on his own polar expedition (which, incidentally, was also filmed as a documentary about the making of How I Ended This Summer). As the publicity material for the film makes clear, he and his team spent three month braving the dangers and discomforts of the northern reaches of Chukotka, scaling cliffs, outrunning polar bears, and shooting from sunup to sundown―a 23 hour period in the arctic summer. The team stayed at the Val'karkai polar station, with the actors being filmed performing real meteorological readings. Discussing his crew’s heroism, Popogrebskii boasts that, in the end, “the risk was justified and we returned to Moscow with unique material.”

This last sentence points to the film’s relationship to the spatial dynamic at the heart of this year’s symposium: the occupation on screens in the center by images of (but not necessarily from) the periphery. Within this dynamic, however, How I Ended This Summer may be an exception. The hardships exoticized here stem more from natural causes than infrastructural ones and, arguably, the most significant difference between the Russia, in which it was filmed, and the Russia, in which it was screened, are their climates.

Chip Crane

Aleksei Popogrebskii (1972- )

Popogrebskii, the son of screenwriter Petr Popogrebskii, was born in Moscow and received a degree in psychology from Moscow State University. In 2003 He directed the critically acclaimed The Road to Koktebel with Boris Khlebnikov.

Filmography

2010 How I Ended This Summer
2007 Simple Things
2003 The Road to Koktebel (with Boris Khlebnikov)
1997 In Passing (documentary short, with Boris Khlebnikov)



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