The title may give the impression of a tale of nostalgia – recollections of an idyllic summer when all was perfect and right with the world – but Alexei Popogrebsky's film is more akin to a nightmare, one which could so easily have been avoided.
You see, what we have here is a failure to communicate. Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin) is a university student undertaking work experience at a Russian Arctic meteorological station so he can write his paper, How I Ended This Summer. He's not overly excited by his role – taking down weather readings every few hours – and is often driven to distraction or sleep.
This in turn frustrates his co-worker and superior, in age and experience, Segei (Sergei Puskepalis), a gruff man who wants nothing more than to get their assignment completed incident-free and return to his family on the mainland.
But when Sergei is off fishing, Pavel receives word from the mainland that the elder man's wife and son have been involved in an accident. Pavel is instructed to deliver the message immediately and that a ship may be on its way to collect Sergei, but for whatever reason Pavel decides he can't tell his co-worker what has happened, in the hopes that another radio transmission will come through upon Sergei's return. It doesn't, and the tension continues to build from there, all the while you're screaming (in your head) at Pavel, “just tell him!”.
Popogrebsky means to unsettle us – with the film's sparse landscape (all rock and ice), the jagged soundtrack, (mostly from Pavel's walkman), and the long silences between the two men – and he does. It's easy to see how paranoia could take hold in this situation but not so easy to understand why Pavel, after his initial error in judgement, continues to make mistake upon deadly mistake.
At two hours, the discomfiture of How I Ended This Summer gradually progresses from one of genuine dread to that induced by butt-numbness (greatly aided by the too-small seats of the Place Verona where I watched it). But for the most part it's a gripping psychological thriller.