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The Russian director in exile returns to Cannes and denounces the war
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CANNES, France — The last two times Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov screened films at the Cannes Film Festival, he was unable to attend. He was subject to a travel ban to Russia as part of a conviction for fraud in what has been widely protested as an unwarranted crackdown on the arts in Russia. Last year, Serebrennikov, one of Russia’s most famous film and theater directors, appeared at a press conference in Cannes via FaceTime.

But after fleeing Russia in March after the ban ended, Serebrennikov was in Cannes on Wednesday for the premiere of his latest film, “Tchaikovsky’s Wife,” which is in competition for the Palme d’Or. It’s a period film that challenges state propaganda, which 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 Russian cinema’s most prominent dissidents, arrives in Cannes as the Russian war rages in Ukraine and Europe has redrawn its cultural borders.

“I see cinema, theater and culture as a big, broad statement against war,” Serebrennikov said in an interview Wednesday from a balcony at 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 persons but as crowds. They easily put them in the fog of war and don’t care about anyone, about everyone’s fragility.

“Art is always against war,” he added.

His film premiered on the second day of the festival, which opened with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressing the congregation in a speech that referenced films like Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ and “The Great Dictator” by Charlie Chaplin and urged the filmmakers not to “keep silent”. ”

The very presence of Serebrennikov in Cannes was indicted. Some in Ukraine have called for a boycott of all Russians at the festival and other major artistic gatherings. Cannes organizers chose to ban Russians with government ties but not filmmakers.

Yet Serebrennikov is one of the only Russian filmmakers in Cannes this year – a role he doesn’t relish.

“If you had asked me on February 23 whether war was possible with Ukraine, I would have answered: ‘No, never. It is not possible.’ But it happened. My homeland destroyed another country,” says Serebrennikov. “It’s very painful, it’s very sad. It’s a disaster for everyone, for Europe, for both sides. Not just for Ukrainians, but also for Russia. A lot of people can’t say anything. And sometimes, impotence and silence are much more painful. Now 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 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 competition, ultimately deciding to do so because it contradicts Russian state narratives and has was filmed before the war and the sanctions that followed.

For Serebrennikov, his film – which does not attempt to hide Tchaikovsky’s sexuality – speaks of “the fragility of the human soul”. It is made from the point of view of Miliukova, who shows herself to be ardently devoted to the composer despite his total disinterest in her. She spends much of the film in her 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 (expletive) but something real,” Serebrennikov said. “Some people are really scared of reality. This is why they prefer to pray for their idols and their monuments are made of iron instead of love.

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