was a disquieting emptiness after the four-part documentary Punk concluded
on Sky Arts. Every episode chronicling a specific period in punk rock, left an
energetic spirit behind. The strums of the guitars, the beat of the drums, the
screams of the singers inspired a world-shaking attitude that's hard to shake off.
so soon after Punk’s absence, Kirill Serebrennikov’s fiction film Leto
is far less straightforward: Russian, black-and-white, and experimental. Serebrennikov,
recently freed from house arrest in Moscow, plunges into ‘80s Leningrad (now St
Petersburg) where the underground punk scene was strumming and beating and
screaming under the Soviet regime.
This affectionate milieu not only snaps a flavour of the time,
place, and scene, but perfectly captures – in pictures and in music – that
head-banging abandon felt when hearing a punk song.
Viktor (Teo Yoo) strumming one of his songs on the beach
Under the Soviets, Russian punks aren’t treated with any respect - they’re just short
of being spat on. But they still play to excited audiences. Mayk, a popular
punk singer in sunglasses, plays a venue where fans can only sit to watch. They can’t
even hold up a self-made poster to show their excitement because they'd be kicked out for doing so.
But they’re a loving
community, sitting in the forest or on the beach or in crowded apartments,
making excellent music together. This is where Viktor, a kind of post-punk
musician with a Joey Ramone haircut, meets Mayk and they begin a punk life
Viktor and Mayk (Roman Bilyk) begin their journey together
much of a story unfolds, Serebrennikov moving with mood rather than plot. At first, the film continues almost pleasantly - relaxing into that world. But then, one
electrifying scene turns the film into a musical thrill-ride. When an old veteran tells a group of punks off on a train, claiming
they’re singing ‘the songs of our ideological enemies’, reality tears apart
with a destructive rendition of Psycho-Killer, which more than rivals
the Talking Heads original.
It's one of many musical non-sequiturs before the return to real-world mundanity. A
scene that starts normal can suddenly shift into a music video composed from
chaos, where – like one of the abstract film paintings in Roy Andersson’s Songs
from the Second Floor – the most boring looking people sing along. Iggy Pop’s
The Passenger and Lou Reed’s Perfect Day deservedly earn the same
Leto soon shifts into a love triangle with Natasha (Irina Starshenbaum)
David Bowie, T-Rex, and
The Velvet Underground also bless the soundtrack, as well as a fair few foot-thumping originals written by Russian band Zveri (led by Roman Bilyk, who plays Mayk). Leto scores with
every track, succeeding as the best soundtrack of the year.
the first hour, Leto shifts into something resembling a story, which
involves a love triangle with Mayk’s girlfriend Natasha. She’s delightfully
ambiguous, and Serebrennikov spends a lot of time with her – but she’s not much
more than a divided love interest for Mayk and Viktor.
The lack of a strong,
conventional narrative occasionally drags the scenes down and the film could’ve
lost 30 minutes at least. But the electric, musical energy shocks the faults into barely visible ashes. Watch for the setting, stay for the music.
|What||Leto film review|
16 Aug 19 – 16 Aug 20, TIMES VARY
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|