Director: Kirill Serebrennikov
Stars: Teo Yoo, Roman Bilyk, Irina Starshenbaum
Leto begins incredibly. Long, immersive tracking shots of teenage girls sneaking into a Leningrad rock gig in the early 80s, where all attendees are made to sit passively as the band go crazy. Dancing in seats is not permitted. Holding up signs is a no-no. Passive participation only. The idea of a film on punk and new wave music under the thumb of authoritarian smothering feels rife with possibility…
Except that conversation is never really furthered. Instead, Leto continues as a teenage diary of rock’n’roll daydreams and pop music signposting. Bowie albums here… Lou Reed records there. The film’s young leads hang out, strum guitars and drink beers. They wax on about authenticity, while they hunger for fame and adoration. Classic punk posturing with pop ambitions.
That’s all well and good, but the sense of over-familiarity here is hard to ignore. Needle-dropping “Children Of The Revolution” is blunt-force and even cliché, while the mini relationship dramas and recording sessions that consume the running time are a bore. Only occasionally does the film address the oppressive state that hems in its circumstances. Otherwise, the setting could be anywhere. Radical as these young musicians wish to be, this could easily be a film charting the early days of Belle & Sebastian. Certainly the film’s spirit is nearer to Stuart Murdoch’s dear-diary sensibility than the filth and the fury of the Sex Pistols and the new wave artists that followed.
A series of fantasies set to pop songs act like musical numbers throughout the film, with scratched line drawings messily covering the actors or scenery with lyrics, slogans and doodles. Olivier Assayas’ films about youth (Cold Water, Something In The Air) are brought to mind at all times, and so these scratch-markings also keenly lean toward the radical finale of Assayas’ Irma Vep, during which Maggie Cheung’s image is obliterated by noise added to the film. But the effect in Leto is more akin to scribbles in the margin of an exercise book. Ecstatic as it may be, Kirill Serebrennikov’s approach to punk is awfully twee. These musical interludes wouldn’t be out of place on children’s television, fourth wall clobbering and all.
Being young is great. Pop music is great. Leto loves these things and that’s great, too. But there’s a conversation early on in the picture about aiming for meatier, spikier, more confrontational content… something Serebrennikov never really aspires to. The photography is beautiful; all crisp monochrome and wistful roaming tracking shots. But again this feels a little too tidy. Too pristine. It also feels glaringly indebted to Anton Corbijn’s ode to Ian Curtis; Control. That film felt more riddled with underclass itchiness and oppression, and that was set in northern England.
Leto is sweet. It also feels neutered. That title translates as “Summer”, and the memories made here are, sadly, as fleeting as the season.