With biopics Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, how about a biopic about two pioneers in Russia’s rock world? Well, this film from Kirill Serebrennikov is just that and done is such a visual way that it has to be seen as both a biopic and a visual experience about a movement.
Mikhail “Mike” Naumenko is the lead singer of a local rock band in early 1980s Leningrad. During their concerts, due to the government pressures, fans are told to only sit in their seats but there are those, such as Mike’s wife Natalia, who attempt to cheer for the band. While the band gets their share of cheers, there seems to be something missing to Mike. Enter 19-year old Viktor Tsoi, a young upstart musician who sees Mike as an influence to his budding career. Soon enough, Mike takes Viktor under his wing and along with Natalia, the three form a friendship.
As Viktor begins to hone his skills, Mike and Viktor begin to attract the attention of the local teenagers, who find their music as an outlet for the pressure of the government. However, as the duo soon find themselves becoming pioneers in the world of Russian rock, things between Viktor and Mike begin to get tense when Natalia finds herself attracted to Viktor. The eventual love triangle is at risk of tearing the bond between Mike and Viktor to levels that could potentially jeopardize their goal of giving Russia a chance to rock hard with no government pressure.
This film is more than a biopic of two legendary rock musicians in the former Soviet Union. This is a film about a pioneering movement during the pre-Glasnost days of the area. Written by the husband-wife duo of Mikhail and Lily Idov and directed by Kirill Serebrennikov, this is quite an interesting look at the rock revolution that came about in the Soviet Union, notably Leningrad, in the early 1980s.
The trio of core cast members are excellent in their performances. Teo Yoo, a German-born Korean actor, excels as a 19-year old Viktor Tsoi, who would go on to become the lead singer of the popular rock band Kino before his tragic death in 1990 at the age of 28. Yoo plays Tsoi as a kid who finds himself a mentor and helps revolutionize rock music despite the personal and obstacles that stand in his way. Roman Bilyk, the lead singer of rock band Zveri, is also great in his role as pioneering musician Mike Naumenko, who is determined to get his name out there in the music world but faces pressure constantly from those who follow the strict government regime. Irina Starsherbaum is great to watch as the woman who comes between the strong bond of Mike and Viktor. She shows her support for both men but grows closer to Viktor in a way perhaps because of Mike focusing more on his music at times.
The film has some striking visuals and musical numbers that show that the film is more than just a biopic and social movement. One very nicely done sequence is a scene where Viktor and Natalia are seen in a bus that breaks into a number full of beautiful visuals with some of the passengers getting a chance to sing along and pick up the song in the film as well. There are some very tense moments, such as the group getting berated by a veteran who is loyal to the Soviet Union’s strict policies on the music, denouncing the music for the lyrics. While the film had been denounced as historically inaccurate, it is not so much the accuracy, but the film does have a message about what times were like during that period.
Summer (Leto) is part-biopic, part-social movement film about the rise of rock music in the Soviet Union and a look at the pioneers behind the revolution. Excellent performances from Teo Yoo, Roman Bilyk, and Irina Starsherbaum help drive this film from Kirill Serebrennikov.
WFG RATING: A-
Gunpowder and Sky presents a Hype Film/Kinovista production in association with the Centre National de la Cinematographie, Charades, and L’aide aux Cinemas du Monde. Director: Kirill Serebrennikov. Producers: Georgy Chumburidze, Mikhail Finogenov, Murad Osmann, and Ilya Stewart. Writers: Michael Idov and Lily Idov. Cinematography: Vladislav Opelyants. Editing: Yuri Karikh.
Cast: Teo Yoo, Irina Starsherbaum, Roman Bilyk, Yuliya Aug, Anton Adasinsky, Filipp Avdeev, Alexei Fokin, Nikita Efremov.