Although its setting and subject might seem a bit far-flung and obscure for mass consumption, anyone who has ever tried to succeed as an artist should find much to relate to in “Dovlatov,” an unusually entertaining bio-drama covering six days in the life of beleaguered Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov.
This soulful, superbly shot and designed film, directed by Alexey German Jr. (he co-wrote with Yulia Tupikina), is set in snowy Leningrad in November 1971. It follows former prison guard Dovlatov (a gloomily charismatic Milan Maric) as he attempts to square art and politics as cultural thinking took a harder, more ideological turn under then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
This rightward shift bodes poorly for the maverick poet and prose author whose inability to join the coveted Writers’ Union limits him to cranking out dispiriting, party-line pieces for a factory newspaper. Suffice to say, it doesn’t go well.
German (“Under Electric Clouds”) deftly draws us into the Armenian-Jewish Dovlatov’s swirling world of literary salons, jazz clubs, fraught reporting gigs, chatter and cigarettes with fellow artists, and angsty interactions with family and friends.
It all makes for a dreamy, compelling, often wry look at a writer who would eventually publish 12 novels after immigrating to the United States in 1979 and only posthumously (he died of heart failure in 1990 at 48) gain fame in his homeland.
In Russian with English subtitles.
Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on Netflix