LETO (SUMMER)  (director/writer: Kirill Serebrennikov; screenwriters: based on the memories of Natalia Naumenko/Mikhail Idov/Lily Idova; cinematographer: Vladislav Opelyants; editor: Yuri Karih; music: Kino/Dave Bowie/T-Rex; cast: Teo Yoo (Viktor Tsoy), Irina Starshenbaum (Natasha), Roma Zver (Mayk Vassilievitch Naumenko), Philipp Avdeev (Leonid aka Liosha), Evgeniy Servin (Oleg), Aleksandr Gorchilin (Punk), Vasily Mikhailov (Isha), Aleksandr Kuznetsov (Skeptic), Nikita Yefremov (Bob), Roman Bilyk (Mike Naumenko), Julia Aug (Anna Aleksandrovna); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ilya Stewart, Murad Osmann, Pavel Buria, Mikhail Finogenov; Gunpowder and Sky; 2018-Russia-in Russian with English subtitles-B/W)

"This messy but curiously enjoyable avant-garde art film is for the world-wide rockers a tribute to the power of the music and a shout out for art not to be censored."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov ("The Student") is currently under house arrest in Russia (on dubious charges of corruption). This messy but curiously enjoyable avant-garde art film is for the world-wide rockers a tribute to the power of the music and a shout out for art not to be censored. It depicts the life of the legendary Soviet singer-songwriter, Viktor Tsoi (Teo Yoo, Korean actor), a frontman for the Russian band Kino, who died at a young age (dying in a car crash at the age of 28, which was not noted in the film). It tells of a love triangle that emerges between the soft-spoken 19-year-old Viktor and Natasha (Irina Starshenbaum), the wife of the 26-year-old Mike (Roman Bilyk), in the 1980s, in Leningrad's underground rock scene. It's based on the memories of Natalia Naumenko, and is written by Mikhail Idov and Lily Idova, who blend a freewheeling narrative with the gloomy reality of the situation. The writers as well as director were challenged by the Russian critics as not being rockers and knowing little of its culture.

A tracking shot opens the film with fans invading the backstage of the Leningrad Rock Club to sneak in. The club is only one of a handful of state-permitted rock places for performers, and allows no demonstrations from the audience (required to sit quietly through the numbers). The music aims to push the boundary for rock, even though the lyrics must be sent to a censor before performed. Our guide through this underground scenes is the occasional narrator dubbed as
Skeptic (Alexander Kuznetsov).

Mike is the frontman for one of the popular garage bands, whose loyal wife Natasha becomes attracted to the budding star Viktor, he mentors, and has her husband's permission to kiss him.

The film breaks from reality to include the following surreal scenes: an
argument with an old man on a train that Western music is venal, that brings about a bloody and embarrassing Talking Heads' “Psycho Killer” singalong by the passengers, and an invented character regularly holding up a sign saying: “This Did Not Happen,” showing that the film is not a documentary.

The film was shown in Cannes. It works best as
a modest portrait of what life as a rocker looked like back then in the repressive Soviet Union.

REVIEWED ON 5/1/2019       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"