Magazine article Screen International

'Dovlatov': Berlin Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Dovlatov': Berlin Review

Article excerpt

Alexey German Jr looks back at a week in the life of Russian poet Sergei Dovlatov

Dir. Alexey German Jr. Russia/Poland/Serbia. 2018. 126 mins.

Alexei German Jr’s Dovlatov could almost have been called ‘Ballad of the Unknown Writer’. At least, it’s the story of a writer who remained unknown in his lifetime, and is still little discussed in the West, although after his death in 1989 he went on to be highly acclaimed in Russia. This slow-burning, pensively drifting evocation of the times of Sergei Dovlatov is not a conventional portrait, still less a biopic, but an imaginatively realistic recreation of a bygone era of Russian culture, when literature and art were considered matters of life and death - and when holding onto your artistic integrity could literally damage your chances of survival.

Dovlatov is played with a mixture of ruefulness, affability and brooding warmth by Serbian actor Milan Maric in his first international role

The film’s talky, borderline-narrative and altogether dream-like feel won’t make it an obvious commercial proposition, but festivals should gravitate towards a film that’s indirectly as much about the survival of serious artistry in cinema as in any other realm.

With its overlapping dialogue, complex use of crowds and beautifully choreographed long-take camerawork, Dovlatov is very much of a stylistic piece with the other films of Alexey German Jr - Paper Soldier (2008), an Antonioni-esque piece about the early Soviet space programme, and the futuristic Under Electric Clouds (2015). Dovlatov contrives to be at once dreamily impressionistic - it actually contains two engaging dream sequences - and highly concrete in its evocation of a week in the life of the young Dovlatov, an aspiring writer who can’t get his work published and has been excluded from the USSR’s Writers’ Union (his Jewish-Armenian identity no doubt being one reason, his ironic outlook being another).

The place is Leningrad in November 1971, when a hardline cultural freeze was replacing the relative permissiveness of the 60s. Poet Dovlatov (Milan Maric), newly divorced and living with his mother in a crammed shared apartment, is experiencing a writing block and contemplating a novel, but trying to earn a living working for an industrial magazine. …

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