In the Soviet Union, like in many other communist countries, a free growth of specific music genres was quite limited. The story of Kirill Serebrennikov’s new work, Leto (Summer), begins in the 1981 Leningrad, at a concert of an underground rock band. But unlike what a person would expect when there is a rock concert going on, there is no jumping or headbanging to be seen; the audience appears to be sitting down against their own will, in silence, some shaking their heads gently to the music, some even tapping with their fingers. The lead singer, Mike Naumenko (Roman Bilyk) is considered to be a star and some kind of a musical guru who finds inspiration in the music of the West. T-Rex, Blondie, Sex Pistols and David Bowie – these are just a few of the names that get mentioned by the film’s protagonists and whose music has been included on the Leto‘s superb soundtrack list.
Leto depicts an intriguing portrait of three characters: the aforementioned head vocalist of Zoopark – Mike; Natalia (Irina Starshenbaum), Mike’s wife, and Viktor Tsoy (Teo Yoo). We explore the states of mind as well as the dreams of those who were a part of the Russia’s world of rock; the era of rock’n’roll in through the perspective of the characters in Serebrennikov’s film is extremely interesting to watch.
Mike and Viktor love the same woman, Natalia. Their friendship, without the stigma of competition but based on respect and loyalty, is one of the most interesting aspects of the film, which is based on Natalia’s memoir. The film does not include a lot of dialogue in the classic format; however, as a tribute to the idols, it does include a cross-section of poetic-anarchist songs performed by Viktor and Mike.
Leto has the taste of a documentary with elements of a musical; the film director reconstructs the dilemmas of the rebellious youth against the background of the grotesque atmosphere of perestroika, with all of the elements beautifully woven into the narrative. The gray everyday life that the characters face is accentuated with the use of black-and-white film, which is in a fierce contrast with the colour in the scenes that include performances.
Kirill Serebrennikov’s Leto is one of those films that you can easily fall in love with. It’s an unpretentious story about fulfilling one’s dreams, struggling with adulthood and dealing with disappointments and sorrow. Teo Yoo in the role of Viktor, Irina Starshenbaum as Natalia and Roman Bilyk as Mike not only managed to create great chemistry between their characters, but they also perfectly channeled each persona, making the audience care for their characters.
Kirill Serebrennikov created a film that cannot be forgotten easily; it presents the international audiences with a good opportunity to get to know the works of both Viktor Tsoy and Mike Naumenko and listen to (for some) previously unknown rock songs about rebellion and life. Viktor Tsoy is still regarded as one of the pioneers of Russian rock – it is tragic that his life was cut short at such a young age. Regardless of what happened, Viktor’ and Mike’s band Kino has had a huge cultural impact, not only during the Soviet era, but also in modern Russia, Eastern Europe, and even Korea; the two artists are still remembered and their music resonates in many hearts. The skilfull combination of various emotional states in the film makes a viewer want to come back; even if the summer is over, Leto is worth of being watched, and then rewatched.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Leto