At first sight, the small log house in the middle of vast snow fields seems to look like one of the early scientific polar stations, a base camp for many expeditions. In fact, this cabin is a military outpost - one of the many built in the 1950s in order to protect the Russia's 12,000km northern border. Still operational, it shelters a military crew of six men. One of them is Alexei, a young recruit whose story the film follows.
Alexei is nineteen years old, just starting his military service. After basic training he is relocated to this outpost to protect the border. He will spend a year and a half with the rest of the old crew and will replace one of the leaving soldiers, an aging Valery who is going back home to his wife. The director Michal Marczak follows Alexei from his first day there, but the film is not solely about him. It’s more about this godforsaken place where time stopped many years ago and life is reduced to daily routines – digging out the frozen wood, preparing meals for the others or patrolling around the borders. In the centre of the film is the relationship that develops between Valery and young Alexei. To a great extent, it resembles a father-son relationship as Valery tries to pass on to him his own life experience (and it is present all around in the film in small details, such as Valery's friendly suggestion to Alexei to quit smoking, etc.). But this is just the cornerstone of the film that also focuses on the life of soldiers exiled far away from civilization, alone in the middle of barren landscape. Sometimes it seems that they are the last people on Earth, bonded by their seclusion.
It is interesting to note how closely the form of the film follows this idea. The visual style of the film (Radoslaw Ladczuk) is also one of the strongest points of the film. All the static shots of snow plains, lonesome buildings of the station or simply only by using close-ups on faces when filming the protagonists supports the whole idea of an isolated place somewhere in the north (especially the last shot from the helicopter that leaves the station which slowly disappears in the distance).
If you are familiar with one of Berlinale’s recent winners, Aleksei Popogrebsky’s How I Ended This Summer, it’s hard not to make comparison, even if Popogrebsky’s film is not a documentary. Both films are based on an almost identical idea – an isolated station in deep north and a small crew that runs the place. In Popogrebsky’s film you will also find a father-son relationship between a young newcomer and an old veteran. The fact that Marcak was able to caught similar motives and emotions on film in real life makes his film a very interesting piece of art.
Koniec Rosji , Poland, 2010, 72 min, Digi Beta, Society
Alexei is a nineteen year old recruit being flown in to perform his military service on the frontier of northern Russia. The base is one of few such remaining outposts on the Arctic Ocean. There are five other seasoned and long serving soldiers stationed here, each with their own personal story or secret that has caused them to retreat from the real world. Their training and breaking in of the new arrival is sometimes humorous, at times harsh. Gradually, they each reveal something of themselves in their daily interactions and private moments as they continue their absurd duty in this snow covered no man's land, hundreds of miles from the nearest human settlement.
EAST SILVER CARAVAN 2011