To paraphrase the Bible, "no man is a prophet in his own land." These words could easily apply to the fate of the now world-famous, late Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov. Dovlatov published 12 books in the United States and Europe during his 12 years as an émigré. In the USSR, the writer was known only from underground publications and Radio Liberty broadcasts since his works were not published in the Soviet Union. After his death in 1990 and the turning point of Perestroika in Russian history, numerous collections of his short stories were finally published in Russia.
Directed by Alexey German Jr., Dovlatov is based on a few days in the life of the writer (played by Milan Maric) in 1971 Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). This is the eve of the exile of his close poet friend, the future Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky (Artur Beschastny). Sergei is determined to stay and lead a normal life with his wife Elena (Helena Sujecka) and daughter Katya (Eva Herr). But Dovlatov's writings are continually rejected by the official publications as his views are not deemed acceptable by authorities since a hardline cultural pressure is replacing the so-called thaw of the 60s.
Dovlatov is stylistically not unlike other films German Jr. – Paper Soldier (2008), a fresh take on the early Soviet space program, and the futuristic Under Electric Clouds (2015). The director is the son of famous Russian film director Alexey German and screenwriter Svetlana Karmalita, as well as a grandson of the famous Soviet writer Yuri German. He graduated from VGIK Film Institute in Moscow in 2001 and worked at the Lenfilm film studios in St.Petersburg. His previous film, Under Electric Clouds, was screened in the main competition section of the 65th Berlinale Film Festival and earned him the award for Achievement in Directing at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in 2015. He was named best director and received a Silver Lion at the 65th Venice Film Festival for Paper Soldier.
German Jr. says about Dovlatov: “I made this film because I wanted to go back to the city of my childhood and to remember that era; I was born a bit later, but cities in the Soviet Union didn’t change that much. Dovlatov and my father knew each other: they lived two kilometers away from each other and my grandfather saved Dovlatov’s brother from prison. My father had his films banned, including one that was banned for 15 years, Trial on the Road (1971), and my two grandfathers were writers, so there are a lot of parallels between Dovlatov’s life and mine”.
As for a non-Russian actor playing a Russian literary icon, the director has no qualms: “When we were casting the film, all the Russian stars wanted to play Dovlatov. They would call, write messages, send their headshots, harassing us on a daily basis for half a year, which was unbearable. We needed a very sharp actor who looked like Dovlatov and could pull off being the co-author of the film. Language is not that important when you’re working with a talented actor who can create the role. The main thing was that (Maric) lived in a tiny flat in the Northern area of Saint Petersburg for eight months, ate greasy Russian food, and tried to feel like a Russian writer."