Dir: Aleksey German Jr. | Cast: Artur Beschastny, Danila Kozlovsky, Milan Maric, Anton Shagin | 126′
Aleksey German Jr certainly knows how to create a stylish film. Under Electric Clouds was awarded a Silver Bear for Artistic Contribution for Cinematography in 2015, so it is a shame his latest offering about the literary heroes of Russia is another gorgeous cover to a rather empty book.
Set in 1971, it follows the festivities surrounding Leningrad’s October Revolution two decades after the death of Stalin, and is seen from the perspective of budding writer Sergei Dovlatov who, subsequently became a well known author read by millions. Here played by Milan Maric he has moved back in with his mother and is experiencing recurring dreams about Leonid Brezhnev. Communism is very much alive and kicking. But sadly, like a glossy magazine with juicy headlines, this filmic foray never really mines the dramatic potential of the weighty themes and characters it attempts to celebrate.
For all its aspirations Dovlatov is a pseudo intellectual schmooze that glories in an unknown breezy jazz score in the style of Krysztoff Komeda and some soigné cinematography, never quite convinces us of its characters’ desperate misery over their failure to get published. Łukasz Żal’s roving camera haunts the smoky venues where the literati glide endlessly engaged in alcohol-fuelled debate, but we feel little for their plight as real people. We’re expected to oh and ah as Pushkin, Dostoyevsky and Brodsky parade before us but despite their eventual acknowledgement as literary geniuses here they feel here like cardboard cutouts in a school play. Well-clothed and fed, they just swing around Moscow like a group of disenchanted uni students bemoaning their lack of a publisher. One or two dramatic moments puncture the day to day literary lock-down of these writers’ bland existence, but there are no standout performances to speak of: even Dovlatov remains a colourless cypher despite his intellectual pretensions, fecklessly neglects his kid and his intelligent wife (Helena Sujecka). An opportunity to lift the lid on the real lives and characters of these literary giants and the importance of their work has been sadly missed. MT
BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018 | SILVER BEAR for Outstanding Artistic Contribution | Costume and production Design