“Since the stern art of poetry calls for words, I, morose,
deaf, and balding ambassador of a more or less
insignificant nation that’s stuck in this super
power, wishing to spare my old brain,
hand myself my own topcoat and head for the main
street: to purchase the evening paper.”—Joseph Brodsky

Stanislav Govorukhin’s black and white retrodrama, based on Dovlatov’s “The Compromise” (though the film takes its title from an evocative Joseph Brodsky poem), drives us back to the USSR with a passenger unusual in modern cinema: a highly literate wit. Based on the autobiographical tales of the Soviet writer deemed “ideologically hostile” by his peers, Epoch is sharply funny; it erects the responsibility of words not only as its subject but as its practice, and its nonstop and fast-flowing script and images are a lucid, smirking replica of Dovlatov’s 1969. Toils and trifles are photographed so as to embellish its charm and place it as a grand, inconspicuous example of period cinema. The young journalist Andrei Lentulov, known for being unselfish with his views, his freedom of thought, and boldness of judgment, receives a proposition to move from Leningrad to Tallinn to work in a local newspaper. There, Andrei steps into a love affair full of contradictions with editor Marina, endless random relationships, and most importantly, an increasingly absurd arena that cultivates his fierce, wry resistance to the system. What words characterize the fight of the rebel? In Brodsky’s static winter of “long dreams, prison walls, overcoats,” what small artillery has the rogue, the favorite of women, “the most immoral employee” of “Soviet Estonia” against the most severe censorship, surveillance, and hypocrisy? The End of a Beautiful Epoch is a startling—and very funny!—discovery!