BERLIN (Reuters) - Russia always seems to be on the brink of war and conditions there now are much like they were in the 1970s, when people worried that an international conflict would break out and largely sided with the government, the director of a new movie set in that era has said.
Current relations between Russia and the West are often compared with those of the Cold War due to clashes between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Russian director Alexey German Jr., whose biopic “Dovlatov” about the 20th century writer Sergei Dovlatov is premiering at Berlin’s film festival, told Reuters his country’s biggest tragedy was that it always seems to be in a pre-war state.
“The more people feel like the war is about to start or has already started, the more they unify with the ruling party or the government and this is what we can see now,” he said, adding it was much the same during the 1970s, when his film is set.
Depicting a drab grey Leningrad, “Dovlatov” follows the eponymous writer over a depressing six-day period as he struggles to get his work published because it does not conform with the ideals and standards set by the Soviet authorities.
Editors reject his manuscripts and tell him to rewrite his stories - for example by focusing on a Socialist struggle between a hero and anti-hero.
But for Dovlatov, thinking independently is heroic. Although he is struggling to make ends meet and desperately wants to buy his daughter a doll, he decides to stay true to himself rather than obey orders to change his style and subject matter.
German Jr. said while his work had never been censored, he had experience of tightly controlled conditions because his father’s 1971 film “Trial on the Road” about World War Two was banned in the Soviet Union for 15 years.
“Of course I have experienced censorship first-hand and I’ve seen my father’s friends being censored and of course my father also is a figure in this movie,” German Jr. told Reuters.
Asked about conditions for artists in Russia nowadays, he said: “We are not North Korea or Iran and of course I have some things that I don’t like in modern Russia but we are far from North Korea.”
Dovlatov’s work was not published in Russia until 1989, two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. He died in 1990 in New York, where he had emigrated, at the age of 48 - before he could witness the extent of his popularity in Russia.
German Jr., 41, had aspired to make a film about Dovlatov ever since his twenties but spent almost 15 years working out how to make a movie that did justice to the illustrious writer.
Dovlatov is one of 19 movies at the Berlinale vying for the prestigious Golden and Silver Bears. The winners will be announced at a prize-giving ceremony on Feb. 24.
Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Andrew Bolton