Cannes 2022. Cinema during the war

  • Alexander Kan
  • cultural columnist

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image copyrightCannes Film Festival

photo caption,

A frame from the Truman Show film included in the out-of-competition program became the official emblem of the 75th anniversary Cannes Film Festival

Having recovered from two years of the pandemic, the 2022 Cannes Film Festival hoped to return to the traditional celebratory film atmosphere. The ongoing war in Ukraine, however, made inevitable adjustments, adding a military accent to the rich festival program.

Cinema and war

Already on March 1, a few days after the start of the “special operation”, in the atmosphere of a growing boycott of Russia in all international cultural and sports forums, the Cannes Film Festival announced a ban on any state representation of Russia, as well as a denial of accreditation to all Russian journalists associated with official Russian media. Andrey Plakhov, the patriarch of Russian film criticism, who has been working for the Kommersant newspaper for many years and was once awarded the Gold Medal of the festival, was among those denied.

At the same time, the festival made a reservation that the ban on Russian cinema is not total. The festival’s competition includes the latest film by director Kirill Serebrennikov, who was persecuted by the Russian regime and left the country, Tchaikovsky’s Wife. The festival program also includes a screening of fragments of Serebrennikov’s new English-language film Limonov, a ballad about Edichka, a film adaptation of the biography of the writer and politician, written by French writer Emmanuel Carrera. Limonov is played by the famous British actor Ben Whishaw, best known for his role as Q in the James Bond films.

It was also planned to show Alexander Sokurov’s new film “Fairy Tale” in the festival program. However, Sokurov refused to participate, in particular because of the non-admission to the festival of the film “The Bird is looking for a cage” Malika Musaeva, a graduate of his directing courses at the Kabardino-Balkarian University. Two of Sokurov’s students Kantemir Balagov (“Tightness”, “Dylda”) and Kira Kovalenko (“Unclenching Fists”) have already received international recognition, and Sokurov called Cannes’ refusal to accept Musaeva’s painting discrimination.

Ukraine is represented by a new documentary by Sergei Loznitsa “The Natural History of Destruction” . Loznitsa is a native of Belarus, but he studied and lived in Ukraine, and many of his best films (“Maidan”, “Donbass”, “Babi Yar. Context”) are somehow connected with Ukraine and its history – past and present. Since the outbreak of the war, Loznica has undergone several bizarre twists of fate associated with it.

On February 28, he announced his withdrawal from the European Film Academy because, in his opinion, the reaction of the Academy, which condemned the invasion, but did not dare to call the war a war, was too soft, in his opinion. The next day, the Academy in a new statement strengthened its position, at the same time calling for a total boycott of Russian cinema. Loznitsa again protested, condemning the boycott: “Many friends and colleagues, Russian filmmakers, opposed this insane war. They, like us, are victims of this aggression.” In response, the Ukrainian Film Academy expelled Loznitsa for opposing the boycott of Russian films, stating that “when Ukraine tries to defend its independence, the key concept in the rhetoric of every Ukrainian should be his nationality.” Nevertheless, “Natural History of Destruction”, although made in Germany, was announced at Cannes as a Ukrainian film, and Loznitsa is positioned as a Ukrainian director.

The film is about the war, but not about the current, but the past. It is based on the documentary study of the same name by the German historian Winfried Sebald about German cities destroyed by the Allies at the end of World War II. The questions posed in it are: is it acceptable to use civilians for war purposes? can mass destruction be justified by some lofty “moral” ideals? are as relevant today as they were 80 years ago.

Particular attention in the light of recent front-line reports is attracted by the film of the Lithuanian documentary filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravichyus “Mariupoli 2” included in the program of special screenings of the festival. Kvedaravičius filmed it in Mariupol, where he died while working on the film at the hands of the Russian military. The picture was completed by his fiancee Anna Bilobrova, who will present her in Cannes. The number “2” in the title of the film is a reference to the director’s previous work “Mariupoli” released in 2016 about the front-line life of the city on the border with the DPR. The new film, the festival said in a statement, “combines tragedy and hope.”

With an unexpected rebound, the war also hit the new work of the French director, Oscar winner for the brilliant “Artist”, Michel Hazanavicius, chosen as the opening film (special honor). The original title of his film is “Coupe Z”, where the letter “Z” denotes only the genre of the film – a comedy about zombies. However, since the beginning of the war, not so long ago, an innocent letter has become so odious that both the director and the festival have not hesitated to meet the protest expressed in the letter sent to the festival by the Ukrainian Film Institute, and now the film is simply called “Coupe”.

“When we were finishing the film a few months ago, the title seemed ridiculous to us,” Hazanavicius wrote in a statement. “Now there is nothing funny about it and it really looks unacceptable. My film should bring people joy, and in no case “I would not like it to be directly or indirectly associated with this war. Therefore, I am happy to change its name and at the same time express my full support to the people of Ukraine.”

Fight for the Palme d’Or

However, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Cannes Film Festival still has its own completely peaceful agenda. It is still the world’s largest film forum, and the main prize of competitive screenings, the Palme d’Or, remains, along with the Oscars, the most prestigious award in world cinema.

The choice of the laureate falls on a representative international jury, which includes such world famous filmmakers as British-American actress and director Rebecca Hall, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, American director Jeff Nichols, Norwegian director Joachim Trier. The jury is headed by French actor Vincent Lindon.

“Tchaikovsky’s Wife” is the story of the unsuccessful attempts of the great composer’s wife to come to terms with her husband’s homosexuality (starring American-born Russian actor Odin Byron, Alena Mikhailova, Yulia Aug, who worked at the Serebrennikov Gogol Center Theater, and rapper Oxxxymiron as pianist Nikolai Rubinstein) – not the first attempt by Kirill Serebrennikov to achieve serious success in Cannes. However, his previous films (The Apprentice – Un Certain Regard 2016 and two films in the main competition – Summer 2018 and Petrovs in the Flu 2021) enjoyed only moderate success. Yes, and this time “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” will have to deal with serious competition.

Belgian directors brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have already won the Palme d’Or twice – for Rosetta in 1999 and The Child in 2005. Their new film “Tori and Lokita” – about two African teenagers going to Europe in search of a better life – is shot in their usual style of hard social realism. If successful, the Dardenne brothers will become an unprecedented three-time winner of the main prize at Cannes.

Canadian David Cronenberg (“Videodrome”, “Fly”, “Naked Lunch”. “Spider”, “Justified Cruelty”, “Cosmopolis”) brought his new work “Crimes of the Future” to Cannes. Cronenberg’s favorite actor Viggo Mortensen stars in the title role, whose character, in the director’s body horror genre, implants foreign objects into his body, thereby attracting the attention of intelligence officers.

Swede Ruben Östlund – winner of the Palme d’Or for the daring provocative satire “The Square” in 2017 – this time presents in Cannes the equally ironic comedy “Triangle of Sorrow” about a couple of models stranded on a desert island in the company of billionaires. A humble cleaning lady helps them all survive.

American James Gray will show “Time of Armageddon” with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway in the lead roles. An autobiographical story of a director growing up and teaching in the 1980s at a private school in New York’s Queens. The political overtones of the film are given by the fact that the father of the future president, Fred Trump, was the director of the school.

Jerzy Skolimowski, an 84-year-old veteran of Polish cinema, began his film career 60 years ago as a co-writer of Roman Polanski’s debut film Knife in the Water. Since then, he has over twenty directorial works filmed both in Poland and in other countries – Belgium, Britain, the USA. The new work called “Eeyore” is extremely unusual. The history of the donkey’s wanderings through various countries gives a picture of the state of modern Europe, seen through the eyes of an animal. The donkey as the protagonist of the film is a technique already tried by French New Wave classic Robert Bresson in his film Luckily, Balthasar (1966) and in the recent experimental film Donkey by Russian director Anatoly Vasiliev. Despite the fact that a donkey plays the main role in Skolimovsky’s film, he managed to attract the world-famous French movie star Isabelle Huppert to participate in the film.

Out of competition

As always at any major festival, and especially at the prestigious Cannes, the out-of-competition program is often no less interesting than the main competition.

In addition to the already mentioned opening film “Coupe” by Michel Hazanavicius, the world premiere of the biopic “Elvis” is expected with special interest, shot by the famous master of large-scale musical blockbusters, Australian Buzz Luhrmann (“Romeo + Juliet”, “Moulin Rouge!”). Oddly enough, this is the first attempt to transfer the life of the “king of rock and roll” to the movie screen. Starring 30-year-old American actor and singer Austin Butler. And in the role of Presley’s sinister manager Colonel Parker, Tom Hanks is the rarest case when everyone’s favorite and model of positive charm Hanks plays an openly negative character.

Presley’s comrade-in-arms in classic 1950s rock and roll, the insane and scandalous Jerry Lee Lewis, has become the subject of another biopic announced at Cannes – albeit a documentary this time. The film is named after one of Lewis ‘ hits “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind” , and not only the object of the film narrative, but also its author is of great interest to it. This is the first independent film work by Ethan Coen after the collapse of the famous author’s tandem of the Coen brothers. The elder Joel showed his Shakespeare film adaptation of Macbeth’s tragedy last year. Now it’s Ethan’s turn.

Cannes is waiting for the world premiere of another film about the rock and roll star. Brett Morgen, the author of the wonderful picture “Kurt Cobain: Damn Montage” will bring here his new work – this time about David Bowie. As in Ethan Coen’s film about Jerry Lee Lewis, the name of the picture was given by one of the songs of the protagonist Moonage Daydream ( Dream of the Lunar Age). Like the Cobain film, Lunar Age Dream is, according to Variety, “not a documentary or a biopic, but an immersive cinematic experience based on thousands of hours of never-before-seen footage.” The authority and authenticity of the film is added by the figure of its music producer Tony Visconti, who worked as a producer for Bowie for many years.

Large frankly commercial Hollywood blockbusters Cannes do not allow in their competition, but they do not disdain to show outside the competition – especially completely new ones. 35 years after the first “Top Gun” (in the Russian box office “Top Gun”) standing on the threshold of his 60th birthday, but not aging Tom Cruise returns in the sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” . The world premiere took place in Las Vegas on April 28, the international premiere will take place in Cannes on May 18, and the film will be released worldwide on May 27.

The special program “Cinema on the Beach” will host a whole clip of film classics – both Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Steven Spielberg’s “ET”, and Rob Reiner’s pseudo-documentary mocking rock comedy “This is – Spinal Tap!”, and most importantly – “The Truman Show” by Peter Weir.

The main thing is that this screening allowed the organizers of the festival to take an incredibly expressive frame from the film as their emblem and poster.

image copyrightKurt Krieger – Corbis

photo caption,

American actor Forest Whitaker at the festival will be awarded the honorary Palme d’Or for services to cinema

And finally, as the English proverb says, the last but not the least – the last, but not the least.

This year’s honorary Palme d’Or will go to American actor Forest Whitaker, who has a 40-year film career behind him and has starred in such remarkable films as The Bird, The Butler, Platoon, The Last King of Scotland.

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