Review: LETO Is An Ambitious And Unconventional Rock Biopic

leto band
(L-R) Philipp Avdeev as Lenya, Teo Yoo as Viktor and cast in the film LETO. Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.

Leto is a new avant garde Russian rock biopic co-written and directed by Kirill Serebrennikov. It tells the story of Soviet rocker Viktor Tsoy as he attempts to start his own career and finds himself forming a relationship with his mentor’s wife. It has played at festivals including the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

This film tells a relatively standard rock biopic story in an untraditional way. The film is certainly very ambitious, but that ambition doesn’t always pay off fully. The different aspects of the story — the political, the musical, and the romantic — rarely come together as they are supposed to. Those segments are the ones that are the most enjoyable and compelling.

One part of the film that doesn’t work particularly well is its character development. The film portrays the characters in an almost mythical way that makes them difficult to approach. A much better job could have been done of humanizing them and turning them into someone whose story is legitimately sympathetic. Had their personal lives been explored with more depth (there is the love triangle, but even that is shallow), the film would have been much better as a whole.

The film is very overtly political to the point that it is almost overbearing in relation to its message. The film promotes individualism, which is certainly a good thing, but it does push it to the extreme at times in ways that may end up causing the film to become controversial. Had the film went for more subtlety rather than bashing you over the head with what it has to say time and time again, it would have been far more enjoyable and possibly more effective.

leto performance
(L-R) Philipp Avdeev as Lenya and Teo Yoo as Viktor in the film LETO. Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.

Additionally, the film’s pacing could have been significantly tighter. The runtime is a bit over two hours long, and it could have been about twenty minutes shorter. It takes a bit for the film to get moving, which is frustrating, and even when the film does pick up, it doesn’t do so consistently. There are moments throughout the film that drag on for too long, although these are often interrupted by one of the film’s musical numbers, which revitalize your attention.

The actors all do a very good job in the film. All of them have great singing voices, but are also able to handle the emotional range required to pull of the dramatic moments of the film. Teo Yu is great in his lead role, having the charisma and nuance to pull off the mysterious and alluring character. The chemistry between him, Irina Starshenbaum, and Roman Bilyk is very good as well, helping sell the love triangle aspect of the story.

On a technical level, the film was very impressive. The cinematography and editing are both great, especially during the musical dream sequences. These sequences feature some moments that have visuals that look like old-school direct animation to supplement the style and tone of the sequences. The recognizable songs combined with the visual energy of the animation helps these scenes stand out, and as a result, the film is more entertaining as a whole.

Overall, Leto was a solid film. Although the script does sometimes miss some of its ambitious swings, it is worth watching because of its memorable music sequences.

Leto opens in theaters on May 31.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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