Beneath the foreboding skies of a desolate Arctic meteorological camp, the paternalistic relationship between a surly old-school weather scientist (Sergei Puskepalis) and his slouchy young apprentice (Grigory Dobrygin) slides off the rails and into the sea in this frustrating new work from Russian Alexei Popogrebsky (‘Koktobel’). The film’s main setback is that its entire plot hinges on a deus ex machina so abstract, unlikely and incredible that it becomes near impossible to engage with the film on the intellectual level it craves. I won’t go into the nature of the offending development as there is every chance others might choose to read it as a subtle commentary on the apathy of today’s youth, or even a sure sign of the generational gulf in the new Russia. But the feeling is that Popogrebsky has manufactured a human instinct to serve the needs of his story rather than vice versa, and the film suffers badly for it.
Visually, it’s not ugly, but sundry shots of spectacular ice fields feel academically picturesque and impart a sense of prettiness not profundity. Characters, too, totter in arbitrary circles, their motivations entirely unfathomable. Their gradual descent into savagery is signposted by much anguished wailing and even a laughable shot of Dobrygin gnawing at some salted trout like a grizzly bear in a body warmer. So-called ‘slow cinema’, if executed with delicacy, has the power to exert a trance-like hold over us, but this one falls flat at every dreary hurdle.