The last two times the Cannes Film Festival screened films by Kirill Serebrennikovthe Russian filmmaker was unable to attend. He was banned from traveling from Russia as part of a fraud conviction, which sparked huge protests as an unwarranted crackdown on the arts in his country.
Last year, Serebrennikov, one of Russia’s most famous film and theater directors, took part in a FaceTime press conference in Cannes. But after fleeing Russia in March, once the ban ended, was in Cannes on Wednesday for the premiere of his latest work, “La femme de Tchaikovsky” (which means “Tchaikovsky’s wife” and whose original Russian title is “Zhena chaikovskogo”), in competition for the Palme d’Or.
It’s a period film that defies state propaganda that tried to hide that the famous Russian composer was gay. In 2013, Russia enacted a law banning “gay propaganda”.
‘Tchaikovsky’s Wife’, a fiercely political film directed by one of Russia’s most prominent cinematic dissidents, comes to Cannes as the Russian war continues in Ukraine and Europe has redrawn its cultural borders.
“I take cinema, theater and the creation of culture as a great statement against war”Serebrennikov said Wednesday in an interview on a balcony of the Palais des Festivals ahead of his film’s premiere. “War is about killing people. It’s about destroying everything. It’s about taking people not as people but as crowds. They are easily thrown into the fog of war and they don’t care about anyone, anyone’s frailty.”
“Art is always against war”he added.
His film premiered on the second day of the festival, which opened with a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy via satellite that referenced films such as Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” and “The Great Dictator.” by Charlie Chaplin and urged the filmmakers not to “keep silent”.
Serebrennikov’s presence at Cannes drew criticism. Some in Ukraine have called for a boycott of all Russians at the festival and other major artistic gatherings. Cannes organizers decided to ban Russians with government ties, but not filmmakers.
However, Serebrennikov is one of the only Russian filmmakers in Cannes this year.
“If you had asked me on February 23 whether a war with Ukraine was possible, I would have answered: ‘No, never. It is not possible’. But it happened. My homeland destroyed another country”said Serebrennikov. “It’s very painful, it’s very sad. It’s a catastrophe for the whole people, for Europe, for both sides. Not only for the Ukrainians but also for Russia. Many people can’t do anything say. And sometimes powerlessness and silence are much more painful. Today, Ukraine is a nation fighting an enemy.
“Tchaikovsky’s Wife” stars Alyona Mikhailova as Antonina Miliukova and Odin Biron, an American actor who starred on Russian television, as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It was partially funded by sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux said the festival debated whether to include the film in the competition, ultimately deciding to do so because it contradicts Russian state narratives and was filmed before the war and the sanctions that followed.
For Serebrennikov, his film, which does not seek to hide Tchaikovsky’s sexuality, speaks of “the fragility of the human soul”. It is told from the perspective of Miliukova, who is passionately devoted to the composer despite his complete disinterest in her. He spends much of the film in his own kind of exile from Tchaikovsky.
Serebrennikov compares the standard Russian view of Tchaikovsky to that of monuments or idols.
“I just wanted to say that something important for the nation could be a life, not like propaganda, a monument of (expletive), but something real,” Serebrennikov said. “Some people are very scared of reality. This is why they prefer to pray for their idols and their monuments are made of iron instead of love”.
(with information from AP)