The Cannes Film Festival, born of the war, struggling with Ukraine


CANNES, France (AP) — The war in Ukraine played a starring role on the opening night of the 75th Cannes Film Festival and it has rarely been far from the frame since.

The parties continued uninterrupted, as did the red carpet frenzy. But throughout the Côte d’Azur, the spectacular ran a speech on the role of cinema in times of war. Cinema screens lit up with images of the front lines and films with an incisive meaning in relation to the conflict.

Sergei Loznitsa, one of Ukraine’s most acclaimed filmmakers, was putting the finishing touches on his documentary “The Natural History of Destruction” when Russia invaded Ukraine in February. The film, which premiered Monday in Cannes, uses extensive archival footage to depict Germany’s Allied bombing campaign during World War II. The question at the heart of the film, inspired by the 1999 book of the same name by WG Sebald, concerns the morality of targeting civilian populations in times of war.

With Russian bombs falling on maternity wards, theaters and other places crowded with sheltering civilians, “The Natural History of Destruction” turned into a film less about the past and more about the present.

“It has become clear that the lessons of 80 years ago have not been learned,” Loznitsa said in an interview. .”

“If we want to remain human, we must stop this,” added Loznitsa, the director of “Donbass” and “Babi Yar”. “This should not be acceptable to a civilized society.”

The Cannes Film Festival was born out of the war. The outbreak of the Second World War forced the postponement of the inaugural festival in 1939. Cannes was initially conceived as a counterpoint to the Venice Film Festival, which then fell under the influence of Mussolini and Hitler.

This year, the festival took place against a backdrop of war in Ukraine, and sometimes despite it. Sit-ins haven’t replaced late-night parties on the Croisette, and attention hasn’t strayed far from the parade of stars posing in front of the barricades of photographers. Jet fighters have been airborne here, but only to promote Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick.” After two years of pandemic, Cannes very quickly got back to frolicking under the sun of the Côte d’Azur.

On opening night last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy challenged filmmakers to pick up the torch from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Dictator’ and ‘demonstrate that the cinema of our time is not silent’. . And in the days since, the role of cinema as thousands die in Ukraine has been an ongoing dialogue – and Cannes has been a platform for protest.

A woman burst onto the red carpet and stripped off her clothes to reveal the Ukrainian flag painted on her chest, blood drawn from her body and the message ‘Stop raping us’.

On Wednesday, the producers of the Ukrainian film “Butterfly Vision”, by Maksym Nakonechny, wore t-shirts with an image of an explosion on the front that read “Sensitive content: Russians are killing Ukrainians. Do you find it offensive and disturbing to talk about this genocide?

“War is about killing people. It’s about destroying everything,” said Kirill Serebrennikov, a Russian filmmaker who fled his homeland after years of house arrest and a travel ban. “Art is always against war.”

The very presence of Serebrennikov, who created the period drama “Tchaikovsky’s Wife,” at Cannes has been the subject of much debate. His film was partly funded by Russian oligarch and former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux admitted on the eve of the festival that he had struggled with the decision but ultimately decided to screen ‘Tchaikovsky’s Wife’ since the film was financed by Abramovich before the sanctions were imposed. enacted, and because Serebrennikov challenges state propaganda.

Cannes, a sort of Olympiad of cinema, chose to ban Russian delegates and Russians with ties to the Kremlin. Most years, the yachts of the Russian oligarchs are regularly present off Cannes.

In Ruben Ostlund’s social satire “Triangle of Sadness” (one of the films in competition for the Palme d’Or at Cannes), Woody Harrelson plays a Marxist yacht captain who drunkenly debates politics with a Russian oligarch.

“I’m an anarchist,” Harrelson told reporters. “I’m the kind of guy who thinks it’s abominable when a superpower with all that military power and without provocation attacks a country.”

Tilda Swinton, who stars with Idris Elba in George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” a vast modern fairy tale about the nature of storytelling, drew a sharp parallel between propaganda and the diverse perspectives of fiction.

“What’s dangerous is when you only have one story,” Swinton said. “It’s when people can’t hear other stories that things happen really fast.”

Other films were more directly related to the war. Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravicius was killed last month in Ukraine. His fiancée Hanna Bilobrova brought the footage he shot from Ukraine and together with the editors edited the documentary “Mariupolis 2”. While introducing the film, Bilobrova wept as she thanked the crowd for honoring Kvedaravicius’ legacy.

“What madness,” a Mariupol man says in the film, with bombs ringing nearby. “I don’t know how the Earth is holding up.”

The contrast between such movies and the more frivolous, celebrity-crazy side of Cannes can make your head spin. For filmmakers like Loznitsa, it can be surreal to be in one of the most glamorous places on earth while 1,000 miles to the northwest, war rages on.

“I don’t think the role of cinema, of art in general, has changed. Our duty as filmmakers is to try to understand what is happening around us,” said Loznitsa, expelled from the Ukrainian Film Academy for not supporting the boycott of Russian filmmakers. is to defend culture, all culture. The culture of any nation, of any people, belongs to the whole world.

To explain the feeling of being in Cannes, Loznitsa quoted WH Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939,” written in New York on the day World War II broke out:

“I sit in one of the dives/On fifty-second street/Uncertain and scared/As clever hopes expire.”


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