Boy what a big piece of the human psyche this independent film is. If you’re ever wondering to yourself one particular quiet Sunday afternoon “I’d like to watch a film that brilliantly displays what happens when a modern-day young man falls apart simply because he’s afraid to tell someone bad news” then this is the film for you. This story takes place at a small polar station in Chukotka, Russia (the film was indeed filmed at a real-life polar station) where a seasoned and older meteorologist along with a recent college graduate work together to take telemetry readings for weather among other things for many months in complete isolation. The young man named Pavel is a bit lazy but manages to do his job effectively until it is time to leave at the end of the summer. The older man named Sergei is very strict on his routine and the science and always keeps Pavel in check while also trying to maintain a friendship between them both whereas Pavel doesn’t seem interested as much.
Things don’t go very well for long though as during an unauthorized fishing trip that Sergei makes away from the station, Pavel receives news via radio from a nearby communications station that tragedy has struck that would affect Sergei deeply (I won’t say it as I don’t want to spoil it) and upon his return to the polar station, Pavel out of fear of being isolated with Sergei after revealing this is afraid to relay the news to him. So the story goes on as Pavel is tortured with this secret that Sergei knows nothing about and this begins the psychological down-spiral of Pavel’s character. This remains the focus for almost the rest of the film as we watch Pavel break-down as he wants to tell Sergei what has happened but at the same time he’s conflicted as he doesn’t know how Sergei will react to the news and might put him in danger. However as more time goes on and he doesn’t tell Sergei, the pressure and consequences grow to become more severe especially with the both of them having to consistently radio in to the communications center to make sure they’re okay.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film like this in my life as there is no true antagonist and there really isn’t a plot to go by. But that’s not the point of this story. The point is what happens to us when we become overwhelmed with fear or intimidation with another fellow human being to the point where we can’t even tell he/she about something that has nothing to do with the person delivering the message. That’s a powerful idea and very hard to execute in a film but director and writer Aleksey Popogrebskiy did just that with the two lead actors giving command performances (which have been noticed with several awards won so far). The cinematography of the film is breathtaking although not difficult given the beautiful Arctic environment, there’s little to no music allowing for incredible atmosphere and even though it’s a tad long, it’s surprisingly well paced given the subject matter.
Now I will say negatively that there are some plot holes throughout that don’t make a lot of sense and the ending wasn’t what I was hoping for but in general its worth it just for the ride to the ending alone. Overall though the struggle of these two men and more accurately the psychological break-down of Pavel as he tries to find the right time and place to tell his secret to Sergei is so powerful that you’re drawn in so deep. It even makes you wonder what you might have done in Pavel’s shoes but I couldn’t really say unless I was actually in them. A terrific film and one to look out for during awards season. I sincerely hope it receives a “Best Foreign Language Film” nod at next year’s Oscars.
The Australian DVD
Audio/Video: The video is a 16:9 widescreen presentation. I thought it was very good, always in focus, the cinematography was clear, great lighting, no grain, it was exemplary. Audio is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1. Sound was really good, no complaints here.
* Behind the Scenes interview with director Alexei Popogrebsky
* Theatrical trailer
The behind the scenes feature is in-depth and quite an enjoyable watch. A nice addition and companion for the DVD.
Review by Nicholas Bosworth
Thanks to Ben from MadMan for his support.