The original 1979 70 mm exclusive theatrical release of Apocalypse Now first screened with no credits and no opening titles. Perfect. I don’t want an introduction to my films. I am there to get lost in a story and if it holds up then great, but if not, I don’t want the extenuating circumstances. If the story and the actors and the cinematography, sound, location and dress don’t work together well enough to provide me with a solid experience then further explanation won’t help.
So with that in mind I was quietly enthusiastic about the screening of ‘How I Ended The Summer’ because I knew nothing about it. The ticket was from a friend who I asked to divulge nothing of what he knew. I found out there was a Question and Answer session at the end of the screening but that was at the end. Instead the director failed to appear and Mark Cosgrove was quite happy to introduce a six minute video with explanations about the movie. I feel ungrateful for being disappointed at this exclusive presentation but it didn’t help my suspension of disbelief. All I could think was that this was a creation by the young director and not a story in its own right. Ah well, it started on a low note but a brilliant movie would surely rise above it.
The plaudits couldn’t be greater, the film was the winner at the 54th BFI London Film Festival and created in a “beautifully minimalist fashion” by director Alexei Popogrebsky, apparently, who had “fashioned a taut psychological drama made all the more gripping by the isolation and desolation of its setting”.
On a deserted, windswept Russian island inside the Arctic Circle, two men spend the summer working at a remote meteorological station. Each day they take readings from their partly-radioactive surroundings, and relay them via two-way radio, their only contact with the outside world. Sergei, a gruff man in his fifties, is a polar veteran, used to solitude and now just about tolerating the inexperienced Pavel, a college graduate on a temporary posting. When Sergei leaves on a fishing trip, Pavel is slipshod in his reporting and, worse, he receives terrible news from the mainland.
The setting was isolated and desolate. It brought to mind the expansive plains of Americana rather than the images I had of a white Arctic. The depiction and atmosphere were as taut as described but the ‘thriller’ part surprised me. I wasn’t on edge, there was no heart racing, no sweaty palms. There was a sense of dread at the bad news but it was mostly tied up with the annoyance of watching someone unwilling to confront a situation. I couldn’t identify very well with either character, I could just sit back and wait for them to stop doing whatever it was they were doing.
It was interesting at best but apocalyptic it was not. Not about the Arctic, to which the actors had grown up in near proximity (I did gain something from the introduction) and seemed oblivious to its cold, or the human condition. Pretty and thoughtful? Perhaps. Amazing and gripping? Probably not.