Лето / Leto
The success of Russian composers in classical music is well known but there’s another genre where you’ll find a long list of less well-known Russian ‘classics’, rock. The birth of Russian rock in the early 1980s and the rise of one of its most prominent stars is depicted in the new film, Leto (Summer), by Kirill Serebrennikov. In this post we’ll explore the early history of Russian rock and give a quick outline of the film itself.
In the early 60s Russian music was divided into two catgories, state approved music published through the only official state publishing company, Melodia, and an unofficial underground music scene. Into this second category fell a group of individual musicians known as bards who usually sang to the accompaniment of a single guitar, and whose songs often had lyrics considered too subversive to pass state censorship. The most famous of these artists was Vladimir Vysotsky, who was a major influence on later Soviet rock musicians. In the late 60s and throughout the 1970s rock artists started popping up in this underground scene, as the gradual flow of western rock music into the Soviet Republics, both via bootleg copies and the occasional song released by Melodia itself, fed the growth of homegrown Soviet Rock. The appearance of the music of the Beatles in particular was a great inspiration for the first generation of Soviet rockers. From this point onwards rock bands gained increasing popularity and the underground music scene grew. Most bands had to reach their audiences through live performances due to the problems of state censorship and regulations that prevented them from recording their music officially. Only in the 1980s did restrictions on rock music begin to ease. During this decade up until the fall of the Soviet Union, the old underground music venues started to be replaced by official rock clubs established with state approval. The largest and most famous of these clubs was the Leningrad Rock Club.
Leto takes place in the early eighties at the beginning of this transitional period. It follows the story of a young Victor Tsoi, one of the Soviet Union's most famous and beloved rock legends, as he enters the Leningrad underground scene and forms the band with which he would become so famous, Kino. The film shows some of the difficulties that Russian rock artists faced getting their music out: the unwillingness of the authorities to let people enjoy rock music, censorship, the inability to record through official channels, the economic situation of artists, generational conflicts in the USSR etc.. The film also has a more controversial plot point. Specifically, it depicts a love triangle between Tsoi, his fellow musician Mike Naumenko (of the band Зоопарк (Zoopark), and Naumenko's wife, Natalia. This particular aspect of the story has drawn criticism from some other Soviet Musicians of the time and even a former member of Kino, who consider it to be divorced from reality. That said, the director is not shy about admitting that some of the film is purely the work of his own imagination, nor is he reluctant to announce exactly which parts of the film are pure fabrication. Throughout the film you'll spot a certain fourth-wall breaking character who makes all this abundantly obvious. Beyond this, Leto uses a range of visual tricks (including drawn animation and odd bursts of colour in what is a mostly black and white film) to show us what’s going on inside the heads of the characters. All this is important to keep in mind if you’re not feeling 100% confident in your Russian skills going into the film a it would seem completely insane if you took all of the events in it literally.
Leto is already in cinemas now. This nearest cinema to the institute is Cinema 7D at the Pik shopping centre on Sennaya Ploschad. If you want something more central then you can check out the Formula Cinema in Galereya. Velikan park to the north of the Peter and Paul Fortress is also worth looking at.