A movie about two men and the weather. At a remote station in the Arctic Circle, young Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin, think a Russian Ethan Hawke) and his gruff, abrasive boss Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis, think a polar bear) while away the hours recording and transmitting data, including radioactivity. Pavel is intimidated by the stolid Sergei, who berates what he perceives as Pavel’s lax attitude informed by video games and headphones. When Pavel receives bad news about his superior’s family, he becomes too scared to tell him. Ironically, Pavel’s fears about being stuck with a scary guy in a hostile environment may create the situation he fears and trigger a bout of survival madness.
This Russian film is in the tradition of Andrei Tarkovsky and Alexander Sokoruv, which means lengthy, lovely, potentially wearing shots of the windy, wintry environment of sea and rock to immerse us in the desolation that informs the men. At 130 minutes, the picture is probably one reel longer than necessary. If you succumb to its frozen rhythms, the film generates oppression and suspense. Pavel’s skittishness doesn’t feel sufficiently justified and you may end up thinking that Sergei’s judgment is correct. It won prizes for best actor and photography at the Berlin Film Festival. A bonus short, Mirko Rucnov’s “First Day of Peace,” is another study in figures moving slowly through pretty but dangerous landscapes. This time it’s the Bosnian border on the day that hostilities supposedly end; the thing has an oppressive air of fatality that may also be predictability.