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Gen Y, iPods and isolation

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How I Ended This Summer (M). Director: Aleksei Popogrebsky. Starring: Sergei Puskepalis, Grigory Dobrygin. 130 minutes

Medianeras (Unclassified 15+). Director: Gustavo Taretto. Starring: Javier Drolas, Pilar López de Ayala. 95 minutes

Two new films contemplate loneliness in vividly distinct environments. One, How I Ended This Summer, is a Russian thriller in which the practical and psychological implications of isolation erode the sanity of two meteorologists based on a desolate Arctic island. The other, Medianeras, is a modern fable about 'urban loneliness' in which the crowded, thoughtless architecture of Buenos Aires is a metaphor for the chaos of connections in the modern world which, ironically, can make it harder to connect on a human level. Both films identify a lack of interpersonal connection as detrimental to basic humanity.

On paper, How I Ended This Summer reads like a social experiment gone wrong. Writer-director Popogrebsky takes veteran researcher Sergei (Puskepalis) and recent graduate Pavel (Dobrygin) and places them upon the claustrophobic vastness of the icy, bear-infested island. The two men take readings and periodically report their findings back to the mainland through the static of an old two-way radio. In between, they have only each other and their shockingly picturesque surrounds to occupy them. They don't get along: Sergei demands but does not receive respect and vigilance from his young charge; Pavel resents the older man's unfriendliness and is wary of his short temper.

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This visually stunning, contemplative film could almost be read as anti Gen Y propaganda. Pavel's meanderings upon the island are soundtracked by rock music blaring through his earphones. Initially this invokes transcendence; Pavel's appreciation of spirited, raucous music augmenting rather than tempering his appreciation of the natural beauty of the island. As the film progresses and Pavel is revealed increasingly to be lazy and irresponsible, his iPod and videogames seem more and more to symbolise some nonchalant skein that isolates self-centred youths from the world around them.

When Pavel receives bad news from the mainland that affects Sergei, he makes the rash decision to refrain from passing on the message until they are due to return home from the island. Pavel seems to regard life on the island as a kind of fantasy vacation: earlier we have seen him swinging wildly from decrepit equipment and leapfrogging along columns of empty drums, himself like a figure from an industrial-age videogame. Presumably his desire to shield Sergei from harsh reality stems more from a desire to maintain his own comfort and pleasure, rather than out of compassion for the older man. Gen Y or not, his decision is infuriating, and has sinister consequences.

Medianeras translates loosely as 'medians' or 'side walls'; taken in the context of the film's concern with urban loneliness, it refers to barriers that divide humans from each other, both literally and metaphorically. Making his feature film debut, writer-director Taretto has his central charactrer communicate the extended architectural metaphor that is at the heart of the film, during an opening voiceover monologue describing the soulless and thematically incongruous layout of the city of Buenos Aires. These spoken words are illustrated by a montage of images of the city's buildings, emphasising the variety of architectural character: some buildings are grandly framed by sky; some look squat and soiled; some are cramped and crowded-in; others are abstractly beautiful.

Indeed, visually, the film is striking, and its imagery compelling enough to carry the comparatively lacklustre human stories. Admittedly, Medianeras does find in the individual characters of multi-phobic IT whiz Martín (Drolas) and reclusive shop window artist Mariana (Ayala) — prototypical 'neighbours who have never met' — plenty of humour and pathos, often simultaneously: Martín enjoys a brief affair with a po-faced goth dog-walker; Mariana, with an anatomically correct mannequin. But their ultimate, fated union is too predictable and its resolution too trite to ward off encroaching tedium. 

How I Ended This Summer is screening in selected cinemas nationally. Medianeras is screening as part of La Mirada Film Festival in Melbourne (14–26 April).

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. Follow Tim on Twitter

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, How I Ended This Summer, Medianeras, La Mirada Film Festival



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Existing comments

It would be hard to say whether the i-pod caused the death of human speech or whether music came to fill an already widening void, but unless the music is stopped now, the human race, mumbling, snapping its fingers and twitching its hips will sink back into an amoebic state where it will take a coagulation of hundreds of teenagers to make up a single unit of vital force which, once formed, will only live on sedatives, consume itself on the terraces of football stadia, and die.

Schmikels | 14 April 2011  

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