A Fine Art of Synthesis


Screen shot 2013-03-29 at 8.47.48 AM

A moment of reckoning. A haunted drive. An imagination running amok. Drinking into oblivion. A compromise of a journalist forced to tell half truths to please the Soviet authorities. A career of self-discovery and torment. These are just a few elements of «Written by Sergey Dovlatov», the latest film by Moscow-based director Roman Liberov. The film became one of the best features of Academia Rossica’s Slovo festival that recently took place in London.

Shot on a relatively small budget the film is vibrant and vivid, portraying Dovlatov’s life and journey through the army, Samizdat and his eventual immigration to the United States. Through a clever use of audio, animation and special effects, the film rests on narration, entirely made up of quotes from Dovlatov’s books. His laconic irony and sardonic wit immediately recognisable, easy humour and self-deprication are tightly woven through the entire film.

Liberov did not set out on an easy task when he decided create a series of documentary films celebrating Russia’s writers. Liberov aims to synthesise documented work with the author’s mind, stitching together narrative, animation, music and natural sound to get into the mind of the author. The art of the film, he says, is secondary. «We’re not really telling the story about what happened to someone, but rather talking from that person’s point of view. Our biggest goal here is to see the world from the eyes of this person, to portray their own reality, to get into their minds.» Liberov calls that getting into the minds of people he loves, if he dares to love them in the first place.

Liberov’s love for Dovlatov is evident. Masterful use of animation as if glues and lights up Dovlatov’s photographs onto the windows of the buildings where the author lived, and the mind easily fills in the gaps: you can see and hear him having tea, smoking, writing, thinking. His thoughts show up as words on screen, sometimes seen through rainy windshield of a car. Quotes dance through the streets. Soviet bureaucrats who don’t let him publish his works in the country, made up of animated pencil drawings. His narration read by an actor who emulates the author’s signature irreverence.

Dovlatov’s complex universe is a maze of Leningrad’s by-gone era and noisy streets of Forest Hills, Queens, where Dovlatov, now a published author, spent his last years. A life of self-search, an ache to be discovered, an eventual rise and success of Dovlatov’s rise as a publisher of The New American and a storyteller with the famed New Yorker. His life, as his writing, is sharp, yet harrowing and lonely, often aimless, even more often drunk. The loneliness is evident, although it aims to hind behind the wit.

At the screening of the film in London’s Mari Vanna, the audience often erupts with laughter. Too familiar are his works, too closely they strike home. Liberov says Dovlatov’s unmistakable language is all about arriving at simple truths. Yet these truths require a tremendous amount of work. «Dovlatov writing as we have come to know it today is highly polished, unmistakably honest, yet never trivial. Sometimes truth that borderlines on banality, requires quite a bit of effort. » adds Liberov.

You can learn more about Roman Liberov and his project through his Facebook page.

Also, check out Roma Liberov’s blog about his current project about Ilf and Petrov.


“To serve your soul, you have to push away darkness”

Russian artist Victor Razgulin considers himself lucky. Today, his works are featured in the permanent collection at the Tretyakov gallery,  and he’s had countless shows in Russia as well as Paris, Washington , New York and now at long last, in London’s Art Most Gallery. At the opening of the Russian Art Week, Razgulin feels as at ease as he is reserved with numerous guests filling up the space to learn about his work over the past decade. He says he likes London, regretting only having spent only a week here. He’s already been to the National Gallery three times.


At first glance, Razgulin’s work is influenced heavily by post-impressionist movement Fauvism. So bright are the colours. So positive, so lyrical are the paintings. Yet, his works are unquestionably Russian in nature, even though Fauvism was heavily French. Razgulin does admit to Matisse playing a big role in

his life, but says his style is always changing. He owes much of his understanding of the craft to his early teachers. “I was fortunate enough to start studying art in early 60’s during the time of relative openness in the Soviet Union. My instructor exposed his students to quite a bit of art and I took in a lot early on. Many of my friends who were older snuck in to restrooms to study impressionists. It was unbelievable.” Yet, he says, he was lucky enough that his works started selling, and he never had to “sweep the streets” as he feared. Victor Razgulin never did anything else but be an artist.

To say what inspires him is difficult. Russian icons are high on his list, folk art is close second.  Yet to Razgulin, ancient art carries the depth that is so often lost in modernity. He sees art’s development over time as one continuum, as a thread that binds us to history and reminds us of our stubbornly unchanging nature.  “Technological advancements did nothing to take our souls away from vanity, desire, torment. We have not, as human beings, changed really, at all.”

The central themes of Razgulin’s works are his family, nature, and winter. His favourite spots – Crimea and Pereslavl’, ancient Russian city near Moscow, where Razgulin and his wife spend most of their time. Even for his numerous winter landscapes, he chooses a brighter palette, far exceeding the white, an obvious choice.  “Too often you’d see women in small Russian towns wearing colourful coats, pink, green. I find that fascinating. It’s easier to dress in gray, but they choose colour.”  Although his paintings are spacious they conjure up easy intimacy. They are as vast as they are small,  as bright as they are melancholic, as modest as they are gregarious. The works relay not just Razgulin’s vision, but his very soul, deeply Russian in its nature, full of contradictions, yet ultimately living in harmony with itself, like the nature he portrays.

“I am hardly a happy go lucky person, “ Razgulin says. “But you can choose to see ugliness or you can choose to look at the sky.” He chooses the sky, and perhaps in that, he wishes to show a more positive side of his beloved country. In the West, Russia too often as portrayed as a place that’s grim, sad, run down.  “To me, Russia is positive, it is bright. It is just this way. If art is to serve your soul, you have to do all you can to push away darkness. “

Victor Razgulin’s art is featured at Art Most gallery in London.  http://www.artmost.co.uk/.


Alona Cherkassky