Directly aimed at failing executions of both capitalism and communism, this film targets an international feeling of ennui through a very specific moment in Russian history. Still on house arrest, after Putin’s cultural advisors decided Serebrennikov had been carrying out “embezzlement”, his press release dates from 2017, written before the end of shooting whilst he was still allowed free speech. Leto shares a rather vocal anti-Putin stance on the world stage.
The subtleties of the film could be lost on those who don’t have any prior knowledge of the cultural moment in ‘80s and ‘90s Russia – leading up to the drastic cultural change from conservative orthodox control to today’s consumerist anti-gay, patriarchal society. Fledgling countercultural groups in 1980s Russia led to a crescendo in the ‘90s of cultural liberation, rebellion and discovery: new music, drugs, fashion and anarchic hedonism. Leto records the fleeting moment of freedom from cultural oppressions in the shadows of Leningrad’s black-markets, living rooms and highly censored Rock Club. This way, he advocates for today’s youth to re-find their voices, like the lead characters whose lyrics remember counter-cultural revelry, only escaping censorship by calling it comedy.
Despite being described as lacking in plot and an “almost story-less evocation of mood” by The Guardian, the film’s slow-moving musing is totally absorbing. Serebrennikov carefully depicts the underground beginnings of cultural rebellion – stylish youths listening to Talking Heads, The Velvet Underground, Blondie, Bowie and T-Rex. We follow a group of chain-smoking, partying rockers and punks enamoured with their music idol, Mike (Roman Bilyk), and his wife, “the beautiful Natasha” (Irina Starshenbaum).