By Mónica Delgado
Kirill Serebrennikov’s fifth film, which competes for the Golden Palm in Cannes, recreates the begginings of Viktor Tsoi, Russian rock icon, in the early eighties, taking elements of opera rock, musical and biopic. In its effort to elaborate an homage to an iconic character of his generation, Srebrennikov gives his film a visual treatment which reminds us in his moments of bohemia and adolescent fury, of films like Richard Lester’s The Knack… and How to Get It (1965) where elements of Free Cinema with a pop spirit of the times are captured, and specially by the use of black and white that allows for a nostalgic and classic touch, with echoes to the dance scenes and leisure moments of Garrel’s Les Amants Réguliers. If maybe the characters of Leto are not the politically involved young people of May 68 or characters of French New Wave, the filmmaker places them in a creative and personal transit in previous years to Perestroika. They are apathetic characters, not looking for a revolution.
Serebrennikov doesn’t give a literal take on Viktor Tsoi’s life, who died in a traffic accident in 1990, to whom he dedicates the film. He describes the beginnings of Tsoi’s career (played by Teo Yoo) through the creative rites of his musician friend Mike (roman Bilyk) who is married to Natasha (Irina Starshenbaum), a woman who he engages in a brief but meaningful romance. The film describes the friendship bond of Tsoi and the sensibility of these young people influenced by the music of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan or the Kinks, that hasn’t yet found a musical maturity and appear to search for a personality in a repetitive and unoriginal surrounding. Thus, the Russian filmmaker places Tsoi as part of this universe, on how he formed his act Garin and the hyperboloids, and the emergence of Kino, the mythical Russian band lead by Tsoi.
While the visual aspect of Leto is outstanding in the effectiveness of black and white to translate a generational feeling of indefinition and apathy, there are too many cloudy aspects towards the way the mise in scene is built, eclectic and diffuse, which takes an influence from the after mentioned filmmakers and musical, rock opera, etc., even inserting songs from Talking Heads or Lour Reed accompanying an ethereal characters who explains to the audience that what they’ve just seen “hasn’t really happened”. It’s also quite ineffective that Kirill Serebrennikov placed Tsoi as a pivotal figure on whose presence the rest of the characters gravitate. If the intention of not making of Leto a conventional biopic is there, it is quite clear that the filmmaker is more preoccupied of making a portrait of his generation than dwelling in the profile of a character of rock culture in his country.
Leto poses a lecture on the creative processes from a clean point of view, meaning that it doesn’t avoid the common sense of stormy romances but bets for a history of rockers and narrates it with atypical components, without any scandalous scenes of overdoses, suicides or violence.
Directing: Kirill Serebrennikov
Script: Lily Idov, Mikhail Idov, Kirill Serebrennikov
Cinematography: Vladislav Opelyants
Cast: Irina Starshenbaum, Teo Yoo, Roman Bilyk
Production Companies: Hype Film / KinoVista
Russia, 2018, 120 min