With the Cannes Film Festival in an uproar ahead of the world premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” a mournful air-raid siren sounded over the Croisette on Wednesday afternoon, serving as a grim reminder that the war in Ukraine has entered his fourth brutal month.
In a solemn protest in front of the Salle Debussy, a few steps from where Tom Hanks, Austin Butler and other stars of the biopic “King of Rock” were to step onto the red carpet of the Grand Théâtre Lumière, the Ukrainian filmmaking team behind Un Certain Regard The “Butterfly Vision” player made an impassioned plea for the world to remember his country’s suffering.
Standing on the steps of the Palais as the siren sounded, a nod to the warnings that sound across Ukraine when a Russian attack is imminent, director Maksym Nakonechnyi, producers Darya Bassel and Yelizaveta Smit, and lead actress Rita Burkovska stood together. nearly two dozen members of the production team. They held translucent squares over their faces bearing the cross-eyed logo used on social media platforms when content is deemed sensitive or disturbing.
Protesters then unfurled a banner that read: “Russians kill Ukrainians. Do you find it offensive or disturbing to talk about this genocide?”
speaking to Variety Before the protest, Bassel said the symbolic gesture was a reminder that “since the beginning of the large-scale war [in Ukraine], a lot of war-related visual content on social media was automatically hidden as sensitive and disturbing.” Rather than hide from the unsettling reality of the war, the producer urged the international community to confront Ukraine’s suffering head-on. “Sometimes people prefer not to think too much while Ukrainians are being killed.”
Bassel said the “Butterfly Vision” team spent the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s premiere deliberating on how best to take advantage of its Cannes spotlight. “It is not about coming to Cannes to [have fun] or come to Cannes to do business. For us, it’s just about delivering the message to the world,” the producer said. She added: “We couldn’t imagine using this time for anything else.”
It’s been a tale of two Cannes this week on the Croisette, where glitzy premieres like “Elvis” and Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick” have brought some pre-pandemic buzz to the French Riviera. These have vied for attention with several red carpet protests and renewed calls by Ukrainian filmmakers for an outright boycott of Russian cinema.
That push was centered around the festival’s inclusion of Kirill Serebrennikov’s “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” in the official competition. The festival’s leadership has faced backlash over the selection, as many film festivals and cultural bodies, especially in Europe, have heeded calls for a Russian boycott. Cannes reached an uneasy compromise to ban official Russian state delegations, as well as anyone with ties to Vladimir Putin, while allowing filmmakers like Serebrennikov to attend.
Speaking at a press conference on May 19, the director described Russia’s war in Ukraine as a “total catastrophe”, but rejected calls to boycott Russian cinema, describing the current situation as “unbearable”. He also defended Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, the billionaire sanctioned by foreign lawmakers for his alleged close ties to the Russian president, and who helped finance Serebrennikov’s last two films.
The 52-year-old filmmaker missed the Cannes premieres of his last two competition selections while mired in a five-year legal trial stemming from embezzlement charges that his supporters say were politically motivated. Serebrennikov recently fled Russia and resettled in Berlin.
Bassel, however, was unmoved by the tribulations of a filmmaker whom he described as an “alleged dissident” guilty of “whitewashing” the controversial Abramovich’s reputation. “When we talk about dissidents, they are usually not friends with the oligarchs,” he said.
The production company redoubled its calls for a Russian cultural boycott on Wednesday, pointing to economic sanctions imposed on the Kremlin since the start of the Ukraine war as evidence of how the international community can come together to tighten the screws on Putin. “It is absolutely clear that this is one of the tools with which we can stop this horrible and bloody war,” he said. “It is the same with cultural products coming out of Russia.
“If you are talking about dissidents and filmmakers who are against Putin and his regime, what they are doing is a product of Russian culture, it is a product of the Russian state,” he continued. “And that culture is structuring the national identity. when russian [soldiers] They come to Ukraine, and they rape children, they rape women… their identities are also products of Russian culture.”
“Butterfly Vision,” which marks Nakonechnyi’s feature film debut, tells the story of Ukrainian aerial reconnaissance expert Lilia, who returns home to her family after spending months as a prisoner in Donbass, the region of eastern Ukraine that it has been the site of a latent conflict since 2014. According to the official synopsis: “The trauma of captivity continues to haunt her and emerges like a dream. Something growing deep inside Lilia will not let her forget, but she refuses to identify herself as a victim and will fight to free herself.”
Though several years in the making, Nakonechnyi’s first feature film comes at an opportune time amid the Russian army’s continuing onslaught on Ukraine. “When the war started, I realized that the film we’ve been making for all these years…is not about the past, it’s about the present,” Bassel said. “It is a film that tells you the consequences that this war can have.
“Being able to present it at Cannes is very important because it is our voice and Cannes gives us a great opportunity to be heard,” he added.