JAKE COIL, AP Film writer
CANNES, France (AP) — The war in Ukraine played a major role on the opening night of the 75th Cannes Film Festival, and has rarely gone beyond that since.
The parties went on non-stop, as did the red carpet frenzy. But a performance about the role of cinema in wartime swept across the French Riviera. Movie screens lit up with frontline footage and films with poignant meaning in connection with the conflict.
Serhiy Loznitsa, one of Ukraine’s most famous directors, was finishing work on his documentary A Natural History of Destruction when the Russians invaded Ukraine in February. The film, which premiered Monday in Cannes, uses extensive archival footage to show the Allied bombing of Germany during World War II. The question at the heart of the film, inspired by W.G. Sebald’s 1999 book of the same name, concerns the morality of attacking civilians during a war.
As Russian bombs fell on maternity hospitals, theaters and other places filled with hiding civilians, A Natural History of Destruction became a film not so much about the past as about the present.
“It has become clear that the lessons of 80 years ago have not been learned,” Loznica said in an interview. “It seems possible for us humans to throw back 80 years ago, to the stage when all these atrocities and horrors were possible.” “.
“If we want to remain human, we need to stop this,” added Loznitsa, director of Donbass and Babogo Yar. “This should not be acceptable to a civilized society.”
The Cannes Film Festival was born out of the war. The outbreak of World War II forced the postponement of the first festival in 1939. Cannes was originally conceived as a counterweight to the Venice Film Festival, which then fell under the influence of Mussolini and Hitler.
This year the festival unfolded against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, and sometimes in spite of it. Sit-ins have not replaced night parties on the Croisette, and attention has not escaped the parade of stars posing in front of the barricades of photographers. Jet fighters flew here, but only to promote Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick. After two years of the pandemic, Cannes has returned with great anticipation to frolicking on the Côte d’Azur.
At the premiere last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged filmmakers to take on the mantle of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” and “show that the cinema of our time is not silent.” cinema, while thousands of people are dying in Ukraine, was a constant dialogue, and Cannes was a platform for protest.
One woman burst onto the red carpet and threw off her clothes, revealing the Ukrainian flag painted on her body, blood painted on her body, and the words “Stop raping us.” On Wednesday, the creators of the Ukrainian film “Vision of a Butterfly” by Maxim Nakonechny planned to walk along the steps of the Debussy Theater to the sound of sirens.
“The sound of the air raid alert will give viewers a sense of what Ukrainians go through every single day and allow them to share the experience,” the filmmakers said in a statement.
“War is killing people. It’s about destroying everything,” said Kirill Serebrennikov, a Russian filmmaker who fled his homeland after several years of house arrest and a travel ban. “Art is always against war.”
The very presence of Serebrennikov, the premiere of the historical drama “Tchaikovsky’s Wife”, in Cannes causes a lot of controversy. His film was financed in part by Russian oligarch and former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Frémaux admitted on the eve of the festival that he had struggled with the decision, but ultimately decided to show Tchaikovsky’s Wife because the film received funding from Abramovich before the imposition of sanctions, and because Serebrennikov defies state propaganda.
Cannes, a kind of Olympic Games for cinema, decided to ban the participation of Russian delegates and Russians associated with the Kremlin. In most years, the yachts of Russian oligarchs are regularly present off the coast of Cannes.
In Ruben Östlund’s social satire The Triangle of Sorrow (one of the films competing for the Palme d’Or), Woody Harrelson plays a Marxist yacht captain who drunkenly engages in a political debate with a Russian oligarch.
“I’m an anarchist,” Harrelson told reporters. “I am one of those guys who find it disgusting when a superpower with all its military power and without any provocation attacks a country.”
Tilda Swinton, who starred alongside Idris Elba in George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, a sprawling contemporary tale of the nature of storytelling, drew a stark parallel between propaganda and the diverse viewpoints of fiction.
“It’s dangerous when you only have one story,” Swinton said. “When people can’t listen to any other stories, everything goes down the drain very quickly.”
Other films were more directly related to the war. Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravičius was assassinated in Ukraine last month. His fiancée Anna Bilobrova brought the footage he shot from Ukraine and, together with the editors, edited the documentary “Mariupoli 2”. Presenting the film, Bilobrova burst into tears, thanking the audience for honoring the legacy of Kvedaravičius.
“What madness,” the Mariupol resident says in the film, and the echo of bombs is heard nearby. “I don’t know how the Earth will hold up.”
The contrast between such films and the more frivolous, celebrity-obsessed side of Cannes can be dizzying. It can be surreal for filmmakers like Loznica to be in one of the most glamorous places in the world while war rages 1,000 miles to the northwest.
“I don’t think that the role of cinema, art has changed at all. Our duty as filmmakers is to try to understand what is happening around us,” said Loznitsa, who was kicked out of the Ukrainian Film Academy for not supporting the boycott of Russian filmmakers. “I believe it is our duty to protect culture, all culture. The culture of any nation, any people belongs to the whole world.”
To explain the feeling of being in Cannes, Loznica quoted W. H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939,” written in New York on the day the Second World War began:
“I’m sitting in one of the eateries / On Fifty-second Street / Uncertain and afraid / While smart hopes dry up.”
Follow AP writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
To learn more about the Cannes Film Festival, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/cannes-film-festival. To learn more about the war in Ukraine, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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