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beyond support for Ukraine, the debate on the boycott of Russian works

« Butterfly Vision », the last Ukrainian film presented this year at Cannes, was offered preferential treatment with the organization of an authorized demonstration against the war in Ukraine. In the background, the question of the boycott of Russian films continues to be debated.

Ukraine again in the spotlight at the Cannes Film Festival. Three days before the end of the event, the Croisette hosted the screening of the last Ukrainian film from the official selection. Presented in the Un Certain Regard category, Butterfly Vision by Maksym Nakonechnyi recounts the return of a female soldier to her family after having been imprisoned and tortured by the Dombass separatist forces.

To mark the occasion, the Cannes Film Festival had given its authorization for a political demonstration against the war in Ukraine to be organized during the climb of the steps. A silent protest during which the film crew unfurled a large black banner, revealing the message: “Russians are killing Ukrainians. Do you find it offensive and disturbing to talk about genocide? ».

At the end of the screening, the public gave the film crew present in the room a long ovation. Behind them a series of Ukrainian flags were raised in support.

beyond support for Ukraine, the debate on the boycott of Russian works
Ukrainian flags at the screening of « Butterfly Vision » in Cannes. © David Rich, France 24

Support that « warms the heart »

Nika Shova, a Ukrainian director living in France, also attended the session. The young woman works at the Ukrainian pavilion, which represents her country’s film industry, and is delighted with the “very warm” welcome given by the festival to Ukraine.

“People marched to our house asking how they could support us and our industry. All of this warms our hearts. The international press supported us a lot and above all it was really touching to see our president at the opening. When I saw it I cried” she explains moved.

Since the beginning of the Cannes Film Festival, marked by the surprised speech of Volodimir Zelensky, Ukraine has imposed itself as the major theme of the event. While the country is represented in the official selection with two films, « The Natural History of Destruction », by Sergei Loznitsa and « Butterfly Vision », the ongoing war is evoked in a third shocking feature film, « Mariupolis 2 », whose the director, Lithuanian Mantas Kvedaravicius, died during filming, murdered by Russian forces.

“We are going to think a lot” about Ukraine, said Thierry Frémaux, a few days before the festival. If everyone agrees that the general delegate of the Cannes Film Festival has kept his promise, the presence of Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov this year on the Croisette continues to make people cringe.

The Serebrennikov case

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, its European and American backers have imposed heavy sanctions on Moscow in order to isolate Russia as much as possible. Faced with the multiplication of calls to boycott Russian cultural products, the Cannes Film Festival had chosen another voice by inviting director Kirill Serebrennikov, who spent two years under house arrest, before leaving the country at the start of the war.

For some Ukrainians, the presence of this regular on the Croisette, who opened the competition with « Tchaikovsky’s Wife », still does not pass. “Serebrenikov didn’t support Ukraine” the young Ukrainian director is indignant, “did we see him at our stand? Did he take pictures with us? No, he didn’t even come to say hello”.

Considered an opponent of the Kremlin, the filmmaker has repeatedly affirmed his opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “We are fighting for Russian culture, real Russian culture, not propaganda. It is about human life, the fragility of human life. This culture is against war,” he declared last Thursday, interviewed by France 24.

But for Artem Koliubaiev, producer and chairman of the Ukrainian Film Industry Council, the director serves Moscow’s propaganda. “He is a false opponent, when he was under house arrest he was able to continue to shoot his films then when the war broke out he was released. Since when Russia releases dissidents in times of war, it’s manipulation. Moreover, he says nothing about Putin. He says he is against the war… but everyone is against the war, it’s not a commitment!”.

Debate on exclusion from Russian culture

Artem Koliubaiev campaigns for a total boycott of Russia, including against its culture and language. “We are fighting against their culture because it is through this that they justify the invasion of our country” emphasizes the producer, in reference to Vladimir Putin’s declarations on the defense of the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine. A position shared by the young director Nika Shova, who judges that given the gravity of the situation in Ukraine, everything must be done to counter the Kremlin.

Other Ukrainian personalities defend a less radical approach. This is the case of director Sergei Loznitsa. I find the position of the Cannes Film Festival quite appropriate” he estimated on France 24 on Monday.

“Any official delegation representing the Russian Federation represents a fascist state. However, I do not agree to exclude Russian authors, filmmakers and artists who are against this war, who, like the rest of the civilized world, are trying to fight against this evil. Each artist must make their own decision. But I think they should know that by accepting public funding, they are working with a fascist state. Would I accept funding from the Russian state if I were a Russian director? The answer is of course no”.

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