How I Ended This Summer
Film Movement // Unrated // $24.95 // May 10, 2011
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted May 28, 2011
Highly Recommended
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Graphical Version

The setup of How I Ended This Summer is in many ways fairly simple, and yet it is compelling. Living in the Arctic Circle, on a small island, there are two men working together as the only individuals relaying readings about the radioactive environment which surrounds them. The older and seemingly wiser Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis) is devoted to his work with a clear passion and commitment that is demonstrative of his good character, but with his skill and devotion comes intimidation that affects the attitude and communication of his younger partner Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin), who is new to the job. When horrible news comes through a radio transmission, one which was only received by Pavel, and that will impact Sergei dramatically -- Pavel doesn't know what to do with the information because of his fear of Sergei. The two men face misunderstanding that could lead to serious problems for the both of them. Could the news lead to an underlying outrage? Pavel will find the answer soon enough.

How I Ended This Summer is one of the most electrifying and tense thrillers released in 2010, and chances are it's a film that most audiences have overlooked - not by choice, but because it hasn't received a fair amount of attention. This is a film that has managed to slip under the indie radar which is sometimes difficult to navigate (and even more so for foreign language features). It deserves the full attention of audiences seeking out adventurous, suspenseful, and dramatic storytelling.


Writer/Director Alexei Popogrebsky demonstrates an immense skill as both a visual artist and as someone capable of bringing out strong, emotionally genuine performances from the actors of the film. Grigory Dobrygin and Sergei Puskepalis are the only central actors in the entire feature. Films featuring only a small number of actors place a larger burden on the performers to create a convincing realism and these are clearly immensely talented actors. Many scenes focus intently only upon the actions of one or the other, and while some actors might fail to carry that amount of dramatic weight these actors are talented artists in their own right and bring How I Ended This Summer to an intense and satisfying conclusion. If either actor had slipped in their performances the entire film would have collapsed -- the story and script are definitely strong, but by necessity the writing required that these actors help carry the entire production.  Dobrygin and Puskepalis did exactly that.  

This is a stylistically sleek feature film that feels much higher in budget than it actually was for the producers. The Cinematography by Pavel Kostomarov compliments the artistic style of the direction perfectly and makes this an often bleak looking world, with the icy landscapes serving as an undeniably compelling backdrop that is beautifully captured - many moments would work as still images of quiet grace. The natural surroundings of the film are important towards helping emphasize the mood the cinematographer and director wanted to capture.  

The journey of life can sometimes be an unfairly lonely and isolated one. While the journey isn't always a downtrodden one it can become incredibly difficult when it is.  There are also times when horrible events happen to genuinely good people, and those moments can shake people to their very core, with potentially devastating results.  How I Ended This Summer manages to tap into these moments with compassion for the characters and their hardships.  Sergei and Pavel are faced with loneliness and isolation by working together (with no one else around) and without a clear understanding of one another. The tension of the film results almost entirely from the after-math of Sergei learning the terrible news that will change his life forever. Without giving things away, this is one suspense film that leaves audiences glued to their seats until the final moments.

The DVD:


How I Ended This Summer is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio 1:85:1, and with anamorphic enhancement for widescreen television displays. The transfer looks terrific with great reproduction of the sleek and clean looking cinematography. The brisk colors are well represented. Black levels may be a little less pleasing and desirable but this could be inherent considering the overall look of the film. The icy landscapes are every bit as cold as the image seems to suggest. There are occasionally moments where the image faces some unfortunate distractions such as banding, and with the colors not blending together perfectly. These aren't deal-breakers though as the majority of the transfer is incredibly clean looking and impressive.


The included 5.1 mix is mostly used to enhance the natural sounding environment the characters are placed in and to emphasis energetic, electronic-style music that seems appropriately chosen for the film. There is a large focus on the front speakers for the dialogue reproduction which is crucial in the dramatic moments. Surprisingly, the film has a generally strong surround mix that manages to enhance the viewing experience. How I Ended This Summer is presented in Russian with English subtitles.


The primary extra included on this release is the monthly short film selected by distributor Film Movement. Entitled First Day of Peace, the short focuses on a peasant who celebrates the fact that his surrounding land, which was previously fought over, is now without the shackles of war and free with the sensation of realized peace. This short film was directed by Mirko Rucnov and is a production of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It wasn't as compelling an effort as the main feature, but it does offer some interesting reflective moments and might be worth watching at least once.

Final Thoughts:

How I Ended This Summer is worth experiencing for fans of intelligent, slow-building, and fiercely original thrillers with remarkable dramatic backdrops. The performances make the experience intensely captivating. Don't miss out on this under-seen little gem from Russia. Highly Recommended.

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