President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy appears via remote during the opening ceremony of the 75th international film festival, Cannes, southern France. [Source: AP News]
CANNES, France (AP) — The 75th Cannes Film Festival kicked off Tuesday with an eye turned to Russia’s war in Ukraine and a live satellite video address from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who called on a new generation of filmmakers to confront dictators as Charlie Chaplin satirized Adolf Hitler.
After tributes and musical numbers, Zelenskyy was streamed live for the formally attired audience who had gathered for the premiere of Michel Hazanavicius’ zombie comedy “Final Cut.”
Zelenskyy, dressed in his signature olive green shirt, drew a thunderous standing ovation and and spoke at length about the connection between cinema and reality. He referenced films like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” as not unlike Ukraine’s present circumstances.
Zelenskyy quoted Chaplin’s final speech in “The Great Dictator,” which was released in 1940, in the early days of World War II: “The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.”
“We need a new Chaplin who will demonstrate that the cinema of our time is not silent,” implored Zelenskyy.
The Ukrainian president pushed filmmakers not to “stay silent” while hundreds continue to die in Ukraine, the largest war in Europe since WWII, and show that cinema “is always on the side of freedom.”
The war is to be a regular presence in Cannes, where the festival has barred Russians with ties to the government from attending this year. Set to screen are several films from prominent Ukrainian filmmakers, including Sergei Loznitsa’s documentary “The Natural History of Destruction.” Footage shot by Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius before he was killed in Mariupol in April will also be shown by his fiancée, Hanna Bilobrova.
Even “Final Cut,” the latest film from “The Artist” filmmaker Hazanavicius, was renamed from its original title, “Z,” after Ukrainian protesters noted that the letter Z to some symbolizes support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Formally attired stars including Eva Longoria, Julianne Moore, Bérénice Bejo and “No Time to Die” star Lashana Lynch were among those who streamed down Cannes’ famous red carpet Tuesday. More star-studded premieres — “Top Gun: Maverick!” “Elvis!” — await over the next 12 days, during which 21 films will vie for the festival’s prestigious top award, the Palme d’Or.
But Tuesday’s opening and the carefully choreographed red-carpet parade leading up the steps to the Grand Théâtre Lumiére again restored one of the movies’ grandest pageants after two years of pandemic that have challenged the exalted stature Cannes annually showers on cinema.
“Dear friends, let’s come out of this dark together,” said opening ceremony host Virginie Efira.
After last year requiring regular COVID-19 testing and masks in theatres — and no kisses on the red carpet — Cannes has largely done away with pandemic protocols. Masks are recommended inside but are rarely worn.
Cannes presented an honorary Palme d’Or to Forest Whitaker, who received a standing ovation. Whitaker, who won best actor at Cannes 34 years ago for his performance as Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood’s “Bird,” said that while ascending the steps to the Palais des Festivals on Tuesday, he could still hear chants of “Clint! Clint!” ringing in his ears. Eastwood is one of few others who have been awarded an honorary Palme.