How I Ended This Summer


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



7 May


Vladimir Putin becomes Russian president, 2000

On this day in 2000, former KGB lieutenant Vladimir Putin was elected President of Russia. He had resigned from the KGB on the second day of the attempted KGB coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991 – “I immediately decided which side I was on” he later said. From there he went into an administrative career working for the Saint Petersburg mayor’s office, where he was responsible for organising foreign investment. In 1996 he moved to Moscow, where he became responsible for transferring the former assets of the Soviet Union to the Russian Federation. In March 1997 President Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin deputy chief of his staff. He also became chief of the Presidential Property Management Department. In July 1998 Putin became head of the FSB (the KGB successor). In August 1999 Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin first as deputy prime minister, then acting prime minister, a position formally ratified by the Duma on 16 August. In December the same year Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned and Putin became Acting President. In elections held in March 2000, Putin won with 53% of the vote. Coinciding with Putin’s election to the presidency, Russia embarked on a period of rapid economic growth. In 2004 Putin was re-elected president with 71% of the vote. While Putin continued to act against oligarchs who were politically aligned against him and cracked down on only recently acquired freedoms, such as that of expression, the economy continued to grow. Putin could not become president again, a third term not being allowed under the constitution, and in 2008 Dmitry Medvedev, his chosen candidate, was elected as President. Medvedev immediately made Putin Prime Minister of Russia, from which position Putin continued in presidential style. Medvedev’s presidency coincided with the economic crash of 2008, though the country remarkably rebounded after only one year of decline. Medvedev also presided over a change in the law, raising the term of president from four years to six. Putin controversially stood again for the presidency in 2012 and won, with 63.6% of the vote.




How I Ended This Summer (2010, dir: Aleksey Popogrebskiy)

It sounds like the title to a school assignment but this is in fact a slow-burn thriller about two guys stationed at a remote research facility in the Arctic Circle. Life is a daily grind and pretty much consists of taking readings of the weather and staying away from a big brutal metallic thing that’s spewing out radioactivity. Oh, and staying away from the bear. Is this Russian film in any way allegorical, you’re asking? Just possibly. Look closer and there are the two men – Pavel, a handsome young guy, a studenty/interny kind of chap, more interested in personal pleasure than the welfare of Mother Russia. Meanwhile in the red corner there’s Sergey, stocky, middle-aged, a meat and potatoes kind of guy who asks no questions, just gets on with serving his country in this small but meaningful way. The tension between the two is palpable. Writer/director Aleksey Popogrebskiy then drops into this simmering pot one final ingredient: a vital communication from the outside world which Pavel is meant to convey to Sergey. But, because the two don’t get on and because the information is highly personal, Pavel holds back. And then, having missed his moment, can’t find another one, a mistake that will lead to a life-and-death manhunt finish out in the icy wastes. A brilliantly evocative smouldering study of psychology that suddenly snaps into being the sort of visceral thriller that Hitchcock might recognise, How I Ended This Summer is only enhanced by its old-Soviet-versus-new-Russia characters, and the presences of two lurking external threats – the radioactivity and the bear. Yes, the bear is a little heavy handed as a symbol, but Popogrebskiy makes it seem less of a clunker than my description suggests, by fleshing out the film with a wealth of small but vital details about the way the two men accomplish the task of keeping body and soul together out in an inhospitable setting – how they supplement their rations with fresh salmon, for instance. The fact that it’s shot in an actual Stalin-era meteorological station helps too, as does the spectacular time-lapse cinematography of the majestic setting, and the unsettling, hypnotic sound design – all radio crackle, bird screech and slap of wave. Very tasty.



Why Watch?


  • Pavel Kostomarov’s cinematography
  • Vladimir Golovnitsky’s superb sound design
  • Rising international star Grigoriy Dobrygin
  • See why the film festivals garlanded it with awards


© Steve Morrissey 2014



How I Ended This Summer – at Amazon





4 thoughts on “How I Ended This Summer”

  1. "Kak ya provyol etim letom" (Russian title contains intentional misspell-pin and should be read "How I Cheated (somebody) Last Summer", not just this school-like "How I Spent Last Summer", chosen for foreign version) is a Russian psychological drama about two meteorologists, the old, Sergei, and the young, Pavel, who get stuck on an isolated polar station for a regular season work and have to deal with each other …and the information, that arrives from the "big earth".

    Visually and stylistically film is flawless. Cinematography with it's slow-pacing, static long shots and scenic wild nature shots is adorable. Atmosphere, when time seems ticking slower and cold wind awaits for you from another side of the door, is on the good level too. And as a native-speaker, I can say that dialogue-lines are also pretty decent. Polar station as a place is just a cause for examination of human communication (so-called "chemistry") in isolated space. Subject deals with responsibility, instinct of self-preservation, influence of isolated space to human psychics and importance of experience. I don't want to spoil your first-time-watching, so I won't go into plot any further…

    Can't name any similarities. Maybe the closest will be: "Breaking the Waves" meets "Gerry" and "Shutter Island" (no delusions here, similarity is geographical) along with Russian "Dikoe Pole" (2008) and maybe even "Kukushka" (2002). Plus some Michael Haneke's style (like from most recently – though black and white – "Das Weisse Band" with it's distant human behavior examination). In my opinion, "Kak ya provyol etim letom" is one of the best Russian movies of the decade (2000-2010) along with Alexei Balabanov's "Gruz 200", "Morfiy" and above-mentioned Alexander Rogozhkin's "Kukushka". And yes, it is way better than Zvyagintsev's pretentious force-fed Tarkovsky-styled issues "Vozvraschenie" & "Izgnanie".

    Don't know how soon those of you who don't speak Russian will be available to watch this with subtitles or voice-over…

    So, if you're often bored with 2-hour non-action movies – don't bother watching this. Try something more entertaining. But if you're into slow-paced minimalistic psychological dramas, give it a try. You'll be aesthetically rewarded.


  2. Having watched this movie on a flight I am going to steer clear of commenting on what appeared to be some amazing cinematography.

    With a sparse cast and a sparse setting this films works hard on the subtleties and isolation of the main characters. The monotony, the boredom, the sense of duty and the age old story of the older experienced man and the younger upstart who doesn't appreciate the ways of old.

    Grigoriy Dobrygin as Pasha is incredible in delivering the essence and fundamentals of the story. What makes this movie thrilling and scary at the same time is that, in such isolation, everything that could possibly scare you in such a situation is explored or alluded to so you never know what could happen because anything could happen. Within this context an important message is received Without spoiling the movie, one could say that we cannot control how people react to things anymore than we can control nature itself. And sometimes to try and prevent bad things happening can be the worst choice but it is always the human choice.

    The script is extremely tight and though the dialogue is somewhat monosyllabic and sparse it all adds to the tension, (and makes it easier if you are not watching it in Russian and dislike subtitles) I cannot imagine how a movie as good as this could ever be made in Hollywood. Where, for example, someones expressions alone could take up 5 minutes of film and still have you on the edge of your seat. Even Hitchcock would have learned a lot from the art of suspense after watching this movie.

  3. This film is a must watch for any film enthusiast.Shows the power of camera.The near perfect acting by all the cast(even if the number is just 2) makes this one a memorable experience.

    A stunning drama on human emotions,relation and communication shot with breathtaking visuals. The plot is simple and the development happens in almost seamless manner through powerful visual story telling, dialogues and voice acting.You will struggle to find any other film which captures the stunning beauty of Arctic like this film does.

    Another thing to note is the awesome use of sound in this film.Whether the radio, or nature or the sound of water or boat,the sound department has done more than what many expects out of it.

    Except for sexual relations, almost all human character/emotions/expression can be seen in this film- fear, lies, friendship, boss, freedom, celebration, learning, longing, tension, enmity, guilt, grief, childish, lazy, discipline, compassion, forgiveness and much more. And to imagine all these have been achieved by just 2 characters alone is a majestic achievement in itself.

    One of the best films of 2010.Truly original.

  4. It is a small travesty that more films like this from across the pond don't get a wider audience (I think the only reason this has managed to get a UK release was the fact that it won Best Film at the BFI London Film Festival). But this small gem has managed to escape obscurity and has now been given a cinema release so that everyone can enjoy this small gem.

    First, may I state the following: this is not a thriller! Please do not start watching this film expecting Russia's interpretation of Hitchcock – you will be sorely disappointed! The film itself has relatively little in terms of plot – a fact that another reviewer has (unfairly) criticised it for. Instead, what we receive as viewers is a quietly poignant, at times almost meditative exploration of isolation and the tensions that arise between the two leading characters in the vast, sparse, beautiful terrain of the Arctic in which they work.

    As the film develops, the suspense certainly mounts, and at one point, a tense cat and mouse chase does develop. Indeed, it is not only themselves, but their surroundings which they have to tread carefully around – sinister hints about a deserted house on a cliff top and the danger posed by polar bears play their role. But don't try and second guess the film, because above all, this is a truly understated, moving exploration of human fragility rather than an action flick. The ending made me smile in surprise, and I felt ashamed at how cynically I had felt that I knew where the film was going. You will never see an ending as mature as this coming from Hollywood.

    I won't bother with a plot summary – the one provided by IMDb is more than sufficient. What I will say is that both the acting and the cinematography are superb. The two leads both do wonderful jobs in which the performances require far more than the confines of the dialogue – so much of this film takes place in silence, and both men tackle their parts with great success. Then there is the cinematography – it has been a while since I have seen such beautiful images come together to create such an atmosphere of isolation and buried tension. The vast, beautiful landscape, the pale blue skies, the gentle lull of the sea, the calm glassy lakes, the dark, imposing cliffs, and then the intermittent fog… postcards could be made using some of these images. The effect is perfect.

    In short, this is definitely worth the watch, and it's one to look out for in 2011!

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