Leto [Summer] (2018)

Leto
Director: Kirill Serebrennikov
Writer: Michael Idov, Lili Idova, Ivan Kapitonov, Kirill Serebrennikov
Based on: Natalya Naumenko’s memoir
Cast:Teo Yoo, Irina Starshenbaum, Roman Bilyk, Aleksandr Kuznetsov
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 30.10.2018
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Plot:
1980 in Russia. Despite severe censorship of music and concerts, Viktor Tsoy (Teo Yoo) dreams of becoming a rock star like Mike Naumenko (Roman Bilyk). When he gets to meet Mike and plays for him and his wife Natalya (Irina Starshenbaum), Mike sees his talent and decides to take him under his wing, soon giving him first successes. Viktor is very much taken with Mike, and soon with Natalya, too.

I don’t know much about Russian punk and of the bands who are portrayed in the film here, I only new Kino a little (Bezdelnik is a great song), but even so, I enjoyed Leto a lot – in fact, much more than I thought it would. It gives us a look at a relationship between two men that is allowed to be much more complex than the usual portrayal of them in film. But that is not all.

The film poster showing Mike Naumenko (Roman Bilyk), Natalya Naumenko (Irina Starshenbaum) and Viktor Tsoy (Teo Yoo) in black and white with yellow graphic elements.

A film like this is, of course, the perfect set-up to be basically a best-of playlist with images. And since I didn’t really know the two bands this film is about, this could have gone very wrong for me. Fortunately, the music is good, and anyway, the film aspires to be much more than just a vehicle for the music, although it has plenty of that, both from Kino (Tsoy’s band) and Zoopark (Naumenko’s band), and some very nice Western rock classics, too, that are included in the film – generally shot in black and white – with the addition of colorful animation and a great sense of humor. There’s also the character of the sceptic (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) who gives the entire thing a special (very great) flavor.

But the real heart and focus of the film is the relationship between Mike and Viktor and it’s really beautiful to see a mentor-mentee relationship, a friendship between two men that is absolutely not built on competition, even though there were so many possibilities where they could have turned to rivalry. (Did I want to suggest to them going for a throuple? Again, yes I did. It apparantly was the day of missed throuples.) Serebrennikov handles that relationship with a lot of sensitivity and an eye for intricacies.

Viktor Tsoy (Teo Yoo) singing with a couple of guys at the beach.

He handles the drama surrounding Natalya a little less well, or maybe that was just my general annoyance with love triangles speaking, but the drama never really took center stage, never was big enough to take over the whole film, so I didn’t mind it that much. And it did add some interesting things, so at least it wasn’t a case of “I wish they hadn’t done it at all”.

Altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, it’s creative way of dealing with music, while still keeping the often difficult circumstances for (punk) musicians in Russia at the time in mind. A very nice discovery indeed!

Natalya Naumenko (Irina Starshenbaum) leaning against Mike Naumenko (Roman Bilyk).

Summarizing: Definitely recommended.

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