Cast: Teo Yoo, Roman Bilyk, Irina Starshenbaum, Philip Avdeev
Director: Kirill Serebrennikov
Here we go again with my attempts to review a foreign-language movie. I’ve easily admitted that I have difficulties identifying the cultural themes and barriers that come with watching a movie from a country you’ve never been to, but I do my best and try to build a bridge between my lack of knowledge and the world this movie tries to create. With Leto, it deals with the same general ideas of strife, conflict, and a political climate that stifles art from being what it should truly be. By using music as a base to develop off of, Leto takes its foreign elements and make them relatable and understandable to everyone watching.
The film follows Viktor Tsoi (Yoo), a young musician who is the songwriter and lead singer for the Soviet rock band Kino. Over the course of 126 minutes, we see the journey of a young artist stuck under a government that is actively oppresses his music style and we see him progressively take over the Leningrad rock scene and become a national icon. Going into this movie, I felt I had a pretty good understanding of the rock scene from my own personal listening and the various biopics that have been coming out over the last few years. With Leto, I now realize how ignorant I was about rock music and how much of an influence it had outside of the Western world. It’s nice to learn more about how music has taken such an impact on society of the time and even though you can’t understand a word of this movie without subtitles, you can understand the pain of an artist being prevented from accomplishing his true passion. The most enjoyable portions of this movie are surprisingly when it breaks out in musical portions where Tsoi covers Western songs that are relevant to the emotions that he’s feeling at the time. These scenes are pretty entertaining in the context they’re presented in because they’re paired with the turmoil that Tsoi is facing at the time. Whether this is personal, political, or romantic, hearing Tsoi’s pain described through Iggy Pop and David Bowie is unique and interesting given the heavy Soviet influence present in the movie. The only potential concerns about this movie is that there have been accuracy issues brought up after the fact. While Tsoi is dead and can’t speak on any of this, other members of Kino have described how inaccurate and misrepresentative of the band the movie was. I know musical films usually deviate from the exact events that happened in order to create a more entertaining experience, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie like this that faced this level of resistance from the Russian rock community. I won’t take a stand on it since I don’t know the specifics of the situation, but when every major opinion coming out of a knowledgeable community tells you that you’re wrong, maybe it’s time to rethink things and go back to the storyboard.
Overall, while maybe not the most trusted or definitive take on the Soviet rock experience, Leto is entertaining and covers topics and themes that audiences can relate to and understand. Tsoi seemed to be an interesting and complicated musician and it’s a shame that his life was tragically cut short. Kino seemed to have a major influence on Soviet and Russian culture and by losing one of the most important members of the genre people were robbed of songs that could help shape their country. I don’t know what that scene looks like know, but imagine every Russian rock band today can thank Tsoi for his influence and use Leto to take a look at exactly what he did with his time on Earth.
Overall Score: 7/10