You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Russian Director of Netflix’s ‘Dovlatov’ on Dreaming About Putin, Memories of Soviet Times

“I always meet Putin in my dreams,” says Russian director Alexey German Jr., whose film “Dovlatov” was a favorite with the critics at the Berlin Film Festival, where it was picked up by Netflix for the U.S. and other English-speaking territories, as well as Scandinavia, and won the Silver Bear for its costume and production design.

The film, about real-life Soviet writer Sergei Dovlatov and his circle of friends in Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg) in the early 1970s, shows the scribe’s dreams in which he meets Brezhnev. “Almost all [Russian] artists see a meeting with the Czar in their dreams,” German tells Variety. “My father often saw a meeting with Stalin.”

In his dreams, Dovlatov is also seen revisiting the prison camp where he had served as a guard, a place that German describes as “hell”. “That camp stayed with him all his life. Sometimes he was scared to go in dark places,” the director says.

Dovlatov, described by German as “one of the greatest writers” of the late 20th century, was banned from publishing in his own country. “Through his fate you can see the fate of a great number of artists and writers in Soviet times, whose work was banned and their lives destroyed,” he says.

The filmmaker grew up in Leningrad in the 1980s, and he drew on his own memories to recreate the look of the city during the Soviet era, and the artistic and literary community that existed there. “Everything changed so slowly there, so there was no difference between the 1970s and 80s,” he says. “It was a great city – an imperial city — but lacking in color – there was almost nothing in color. I remember the intelligence gathering that used to go on in the large communal flats. I remember it was cold.”

Like Dovlatov, German’s father — also a filmmaker — ran into difficulties with the Soviet authorities, most notably with 1971 World War II film “Trial on the Road,” which was banned for 15 years. “It was very familiar,” German says.

The artists and writers that Dovlatov knew in Leningrad, whose lives were “destroyed” in many instances, “were not dissidents,” German says. “They just wanted to talk and write about anything they wanted to. They were destroyed for nothing … just because they were different.”

However, authoritarian regimes don’t always succeed in crushing freedom, German says. “The more the state pushes, the more creative people become.”

Life in Putin’s Russia is not the same as Soviet days, at least not for now. “The times are different today. You can easily be published… you can write anything on the internet. But we don’t know what is going to happen in five or ten years’ time,” he says. “A lot of the discussion [about the role of the artist] that are in the film, I hear from some people now… that we need to be ‘positive’ about things.”

Financing films like “Dovlatov” is tough. “No one wants films about artists and writers nowadays,” German says. “There are only a small number of producers who are interested in these things. Everyone wants films about sports and victories.”

However, he had no problem getting funding from Russia’s Ministry of Culture. “There was no censorship. No one asked for any changes. Maybe that is just for the time being, but for now there is no censorship,” he says.

More Film

  • Of Fathers and Sons

    Producer of Oscar-Nommed Syria Documentary Could Miss Awards Due to Visa Problem

    A German producer’s hopes to attend Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, where his film is up for an Oscar, look likely to be dashed by tightened U.S. Department of Homeland Security restrictions and increased bureaucracy. Hans Robert Eisenhauer is one of the producers of “Of Fathers and Sons,” director Talal Derki’s film about a radical Islamist [...]

  • Speaker of the United States House

    Nancy Pelosi, Ava DuVernay Honored at VH1 Trailblazers Event

    Cher is feeling a little better about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. “When I see Trump spew his hate and tell his gazillion lies, I get pissed off and feel uneasy at the same time,” the Oscar winner and frequent Trump critic said on Wednesday while introducing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at “VH1 [...]

  • Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy

    The Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy History

    No Academy Awards is complete without some emotional acceptance speeches on stage – and some political ones to boot. With just 90 seconds to make an impact, many actors have used the platform as a voice for political change, calling attention to hot-button issues like climate change and gender equality, while others have simply reveled [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Arrested, in Custody of Chicago Police

    Jussie Smollett has been arrested and faces criminal charges for allegedly filing a false police report and for disorderly conduct. Chicago police tweeted Thursday morning that the “Empire” actor was under arrest and in custody of detectives. Smollett claimed that he had been attacked by two men on Jan. 29 — he said they beat [...]

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers as Concord Boards Project

    Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the iconic jazz singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has sold the project to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content