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FNE at Cannes 2018: Review: Summer / Leto

FNE at Cannes 2018: Review: Summer / Leto Summer, dir. Kirill Serebrennikov

CANNES: Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov has not arrived in Cannes with his Cannes competition film Summer because he is under house arrest in Moscow accused of embezzling state funds meant to support the theatre he directed.  But while the director’s personal story might be gloomy one Summer fills the screen with music and an innocent joy.

The story is based on life of Russian rock legends Viktor Tsoi and his band Kino and his relationship with Mike Naumenko of Zoopark and Mike’s girlfriend Natasha played by Irina Starshenbaum.  Perestroika and Gorbachev have yet to arrive on the scene but anyone who experienced the loosening of the communist stranglehold on the Soviet Union and what was then the East Block knows the important role that rock music played in fostering a spirit of non-political youthful rebellion.

Summer takes place in Leningrad, in the early 1980s. The underground rock scene is cool and Russian rockers look to American and British artists like Led Zeppelin and David Bowie.  Mike played by Roman Bilyk is already an establish underground artist at the Leningrad rock club when a  young Viktor Tsoi played by Korean Teo Yoo, eager to make a name for himself, appears on the scene with fresh and original music that he has written.

The two men become friends and rivals competing both with their music and for the love of Natasha.  But Mike and Natasha both also see Tsoi’s unique talent and Mike is ready to work to make Tsoi immortal while at the same time suffering the agonies of jealousy as a relationship develops between Natasha and Tsoi. But Tsoi is more interested in his music and how Mike can help his career than running off with Natasha.

Serebrennikov handles this love triangle with a light touch.  This is more a film about capturing the mood, music and atmosphere of Leningrad in the 1980s than a serious drama.  Tsoi is more than just another rock musician.  For Russians that grew up during this period he was an idol.  Both men died tragically young and the film captures their youthful rise to fame.

Serebrennikov fans will no doubt be surprised by the whimsy of this film after his much more formal The Student and more serious The Betrayal but this is really intended as a summertime romp that remembers the youth of the generation that became the Russians of today’s democratic Russia.

This is really a musical and the soundtrack is obviously one of the most important elements of the film and it is full of Russian covers of songs of the period like famous Psycho Killer by the Talking Heads and  Iggy Pop's The Passenger.  The production numbers turn out to have ordinary people on trams or on the street joining in as they are dubbed to sing along.  The mood is further lightened with animated graffiti scratched over the action of this black and white film.  Overall this is a fun romp that never takes itself to seriously and should stand up to repeated viewings like most successful musicals.

Credits: Summer (Russia)

Directed by Kirill Serebrennikov

Cast: Teo Yoo, Irina Starshenbaum, Roman Bilyk, Filipp Avdeev, Alexandr Gorchilin, Alexander Kuznetsov, Nikita Efremov, Julia Aug, Elena Koreneva, Lia Akhedzhakova, Anton Adasinskyi, Vasiliy Mikhailov

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