The connection between cinema and war goes back to the battlefields of the western front. The British propaganda film “The Battle of the Somme” first provided images from the trenches in 1916. War and the culture industry have always been mutually dependent—the stories, the tragedies, the technologies. This year, 36 years after the original – the first partnership between Hollywood and the US military in 1986, by the way – the action spectacle “Top Gun: Maverick” is being shown in Cannes. In the sequel, the boss remains anonymous for diplomatic and economic reasons.
Volodymyr Zelenskyj did not even mention the name of his adversary at the opening gala of the 75th Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday evening. “The dictator will not win!” was his message to the assembled glamor faction of world cinema. And he brought another job as a small gift via video link: “Hundreds of people are dying today. Will cinema be silent about this?”
Cannes did well to give the floor to the Ukrainian President at the opening – unlike the Academy a few months ago at the Oscars. Inviting Selenskyj to official receptions has recently felt a bit calculated: Of course, there is always a certain amount of glamor and glory that falls back on the hosts themselves. But there is hardly a better platform for the former actor and comedian, in front of colleagues, to appeal to the responsibility of the world public. to be a thorn in the flesh.
Selenskyj speaks for a long time on Tuesday, almost ten minutes, and one has to give the organizers credit for the fact that his surprise appearance is dramaturgically well placed. For years, films have been shown at the major festivals that have repeatedly brought to mind the situation in Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea and the war in the east. But how powerful is cinema today? Selenskyj is reminiscent of Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”: a prophetic film at the time, in retrospect almost naive.
Where are the Chaplins of the present, when Europe’s internal stability is threatened again? The President thanks all Ukrainian filmmakers, but does not forget his Russian colleagues, who have been subjected to state reprisals for years. One of them, Kirill Serebrennikov, will present his new film on the Croisette this week. The speech is also so impressive because Zelenskyj calls for unity against a common enemy despite all the uncompromisingness.
But how can the transition to the celebratory part succeed after this speech, with a meta-zombie comedy that uses violence for comic effect? Michel Hazanavicius’ opening film “Coupez!” – very funny, very bloody, but also a lot of nonsense – seems all the more strange after Selenskyj’s appearance. But those are the contradictions that one has to endure this year between world politics and art cinema. In the end, Julianne Moore only has to officially open the festival.