Stylish, unfocused and only playing the hits, Kirill Serebrennikov’s biopic Leto offers a gallop through 1980s rock nostalgia from a Soviet perspective. The film is shot in gorgeous wide monochrome, Leningrad evoked in the city and the pastures, in the music and the romance. We fly through alternative rock, punk, new wave and new romantics in over two hours, through the western influences as well as the Russian imitations. Therein lies the fun, but the central love triangle is muted and uninvolving, and the running time far too long.
This is a biopic of a cultural scene – if anything – but focus falls on Viktor Tsoi (played by German-Korean actor Teo Yoo), a young musician devoted to Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. He invests himself in a small rock subculture, seeking mentorship from established blues artist Mike Naumenko (Roman Bilyk). Constant references to the likes of T-Rex and The Velvet Underground are basically exciting, if used in a slightly arbitrary diegesis.
Mike’s wife Natasha (Irina Starshenbaum) quickly takes a fancy to Viktor, provoking an ostensibly liberal, repressed three-way romance that is frankly strange. All personal emotions are subordinated to musical concerns as Viktor gradually learns from and eventually supersedes his master. Natasha has a child with Mike, but perplexingly, Viktor appears the better father. It’s a marginal case.
The sing-along sequences stand out, although the song choices aren’t particularly imaginative. Think of the most famous tracks by Talking Heads, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed – yeah, those ones. More curious are the animations – “childish realism”, according to the director of photography, Vladislav Opelyants – that spill out of the bus passengers and pedestrians who sing willfully out of tune. There’s even a striking splash of red. It’s an entertaining and evocative, if atonal, way of capturing a historical moment.
Unfortunately, these sections are bookended by an irritating Sceptic (Alexander Kuznetsov), who addresses the audience with a smug grin and a banal concession to methods of fiction. It’s a cheap postmodern trick that indicates a broader bagginess and lack of control. There’s little narrative progression in Leto, while a weird puritanical streak pervades the alleged hedonism. Wine and spirits are about as heavy as it gets, and no one suffers undue violence or offence. Lou Reed, an arrogant lyricist perhaps, at least knew the shackles of social conservatism.
Leto does not have a UK release date yet.
Read our coverage of the Leto press conference here.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Leto here: