Nov 3, 2018
Welcome back to Streaming Saturdays! Today we continue getting caught up on Netflix Originals, this time with a collaboration between Russia, Poland, and Serbia. For a few other films from the various film scenes, check out “The Road Movie” (Episode #102), “Forgive Us Our Debts” (Episode #129), “November” (Episode #157), and “Loving Vincent” (Episode #175). And if you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “Dovlatov” (2018), the Netflix Original international film directed by Aleksey German and written for the screen in collaboration with Yulia Tupikina. The film follows six days in the life of then-unrecognized writer Sergei Dovlatov (Milan Maric), as he attempts to get his work published in 1970s Soviet Russia. The film explores the social milieu of the time, his struggles to not alter his voice, and the weird worlds he inhabited in Leningrad or St. Petersburg.
Sergei Dovlatov would eventually emigrate to the United States eight years after the events in this film, and arguably, when he was taking more interesting actions than the events portrayed in this film, at least on the outside. But that would be a film about Dovlatov’s life and not the inspiration for his unique pedestrian and defiant look as an aspiring writer in Soviet Russia, especially with his relationship to future Nobel Prize winning Iosif Brodsky (Artur Beschastny), and the complex state machinery involved for any writer to be accepted. And this film is immersive, covering six full days of events over two hours, letting you feel the same environment that inspired Dovlatov. If you aren’t ready for that, then you aren’t going to appreciate this film. But if you are ready for it, then you’ll find an excellent, Dovlatov-esque look at his own life.
“Dovlatov” is a writer’s film, especially for writers who suddenly find themselves on the outside of their own societies. Watching Dovlatov careen about his life felt very much like many of the scenes described by Kerouac during his stationary moments, unfulfilling work juxtaposed against scenes full of dissidents and artists and black marketeers, playing jazz records, drinking, smoking, all looking for more meaning than what the rest of their days presents to them. German captures these moments with some great moving camera work, single taking some sections to tell a lot of story without a lot of dialogue. Outside of those moments, however, we see the dull, dreary, and measured existence of everyday Russia, accepted as a matter of course by many. Excellent locations, sets, and props brought back the feel of Soviet Russia.
Without Dovlatov uttering a single word, we would understand where he found so much inspiration in his resistance to the society around him. But Sergei Dovlatov was no mute, and generally, it was his mouth that got him into trouble more often than not. Milan Maric takes the struggling, slightly depressed writer and adds a laconic sarcasm that confuses more often than clarifies, and moving between the two identities he adopted to deal with society, one official and one genuine. Every society has some measure of that dual identity, but many of us don’t have to worry about being arrested for it, and especially since his daughter and ex-wife may suffer as well. It’s another layer of consideration that weaves in and out of Dovlatov’s story, and another layer that Maric really nails. A unique time for a unique individual during a time of conformity.
“Dovlatov” (2018) is a look at six formative days in the life of Sergei Dovlatov and his earlier struggles to gain recognition in a controlled system. Aleksey German delivers a moving period piece that transports the viewer back to 1970s Leningrad, and gives folks a sense of the environment and inspiration for such a celebrated writer. Fans of historical drama or aspiring writers, who don’t mind a more contemplative approach to films, should definitely check out this film. It may not be for everyone, but it was certainly for me.
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
One Movie Punch: 9.6/10
“Dovlatov” (2018) is rated PG-13 and is currently streaming on Netflix and in select theaters.