Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres, or occasionally our own inscrutable whims. Because it’s still winter, this week we’re looking back on films set in very cold places.
No snow blankets the ground of the remote arctic island where How I Ended This Summer takes place. But make no mistake: This is a frigid environment, its surrounding waters dotted with giant ice cubes, its wind whipping at exposed extremities, its whole general climate making an ironic mockery of the titular season. For Pavel (Grigoriy Dobrygin), the cold front attacks from multiple directions, blowing in not just from the sea but also from the only other soul in his proximity: the stern, unfriendly Sergey (Sergey Puskepalis). The two have been hired to man the island’s weather station and radio in daily readings, and Sergey, seasoned in the field of meteorology, has no patience or affection for the twentysomething “tourist” he’s stuck babysitting for a few of the supposedly warmer weeks. What’s worse than a summer spent alone on a polar rock in the middle of nowhere? How about one spent with a middle-aged crank whose disposition makes the temperature seem tropical by comparison?
Like a Shining without ghosts, How I Ended This Summer is precisely tuned to the boredom and cabin-fever frustration of being stranded somewhere inhospitable; its two-plus hours crawl by more like a long winter than a lazy summer, zeroing in on the ways that Pavel passes the time in isolation (one makeshift source of entertainment: hanging from a spinning satellite like an amusement park ride), trying to stay on the good side of his stony co-worker. But just when his tedium starts to feel contagious, Aleksey Popogrebskiy’s deliberately paced drama finds its drama. While Sergey plays hooky to catch trout, Pavel receives an urgent message from the mainland: There’s an emergency involving Sergey’s family. But when the gruff professional returns later that day, Pavel freezes, so intimidated by the responsibility of breaking the very bad news that he just… doesn’t. And for every passing minute that he withholds this rather significant information, the task of revealing of it grows more daunting.
What emerges, then, is a tense and even dryly comic exaggeration of the lengths some will go to avoid any conflict or confrontation. Will Pavel ever come clean and stop lying by omission? And what will Sergey do if and when he finally does? These questions hang heavily over How I Ended This Summer, the film’s pregnant suspense inching it into the realm of moral thriller. All the while, the dismal, almost otherworldly landscape works like a shiny frozen surface, reflecting the arctic chill passing between these two mismatched colleagues—at least until it doesn’t. By the very final moments, snow has finally made an appearance, the summer of the title fading into an even harsher winter. But in other, perhaps more important ways, the ice has thawed.
Availability: How I Ended This Summer is available to stream for free on Amazon Prime or to rent or purchase digitally through Amazon Instant Video. It can also be obtained on DVD or Blu-ray from Netflix, Amazon, or possibly your local video store/library.