Strong scene follows strong scene, but the ultimate point of each of them is the same: Dovlatov can’t get published. He’s got his standards and won’t lower them for journalistic grunt work. His friends, first and foremost, Joseph Brodsky (Artur Beschastny), know he’s great and say so, but what are you going to do. Over and over, until the first hour feels like two, and there’s another hour to go.
It's the product of director Alexey German’s more than a decade-long effort to give compelling cinematic form to a bruised existence that holds deeply personal resonance for him. Unfolding like an opiated memory through lush balletic visuals punctuated by nightmarish episodes of despair and destruction, Dovlatov manages to be at once a soulful commemoration of a thriving artistic community and an unflinching condemnation of the rigid political system that broke it apart.
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.