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Cannes “Bears”

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Photo: The 77th Cannes Film Festival in 2024 once again confirmed the dubious assertion that "culture is above politics", Source: Collage The Gaze \ by Leonid Lukashenko
Photo: The 77th Cannes Film Festival in 2024 once again confirmed the dubious assertion that "culture is above politics", Source: Collage The Gaze \ by Leonid Lukashenko

The 77th Cannes Film Festival in 2024 once again confirmed the dubious assertion that "culture is above politics." This was demonstrated by the presence of "good Russians," who, like a true sabotage and reconnaissance group, descended on the Promenade de la Croisette in full force: celebrities, "principled" film critics, unprincipled actors, and directors calling for mutual forgiveness "from both sides." The film production presented by this contingent at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès matched the character of the Russian delegation.

Considering that the Cannes Film Festival was established in protest against the politics of the Venice Film Festival—where in 1938 one of the main prizes was awarded to Leni Riefenstahl's film "Olympia," prompting allegations of Hitler's administration interfering with the festival jury—it is disheartening to see history repeat itself. What began as a protest has ended in the same way. This festival too has failed, and a new one is needed.

Firstly, it is notable that Russian celebrities, even those on sanction lists, are still allowed and welcomed on the red carpet—nothing else can explain why this year, on the red carpet, Russian TV host Victoria Bonya and Putin propagandist Ksenia Sobchak (who is on Alexei Navalny’s FBK sanctions list) were seen in their absurd outfits. Sadly, it appears that festival tickets can still be purchased by any rogue.


Photo: Putin propagandist Ksenia Sobchak in Cannes 2024, Source: X

The current festival favourite, the film "Anora" by American director Sean Baker, is of greater interest. The film won the Palme d'Or at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, surpassing the Indian drama "All We Imagine as Light" and "The Seed of the Sacred Fig" by Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who has been sentenced in his homeland to prison and flogging.

"Anora" is another variation of "Pretty Woman," with an Uzbek stripper and a Russian playboy in place of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. The plot is quite simplistic—sex worker Anora (whose ancestors were born in the USSR) meets Russian playboy Ivan, who loves drinking vodka and playing PlayStation, but their happiness is threatened by Vanya's parents, who (who would have thought!) are Russian oligarchs. The plot aside, even the casting of the film raises questions. 

One of the main roles in "Anora" is played by popular Russian actor Yura Borisov, who is inexplicably regarded as liberal and anti-Putin. This is inaccurate. Even a cursory look at Borisov’s pre-war filmography reveals notable works, such as his role in the propaganda film "Kalashnikov," a biopic about the creator of the eponymous rifle, or in the film "Union of Salvation," which portrays the Decembrist uprising in a highly negative light. Responding to criticism for participating in propaganda films, Yura Borisov admitted in an interview with Russian blogger Yuri Dud that he does not consider the political or ideological basis of a film. What matters is that the character is interesting. This likely explains Borisov's recent role in the historical series "Chronicles of the Russian Revolution" directed by sanctioned Russian director Andrey Konchalovsky. This is the same Konchalovsky who once tried to build a career in Hollywood, only to become disillusioned with the American dream and return to Russia. There, along with his brother, the fanatical propagandist Nikita Mikhalkov, he was eventually included in the sanctions list of individuals who publicly call for aggressive war, justify, and legitimize the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and the temporary occupation of Ukrainian territory. Whether Yura Borisov knows who is directing this series is a rhetorical question. Whether Sean Baker knew that his festival film featured an actor who simultaneously supports Russia’s genocidal policies is equally dubious. But who cares about such details when the Palme d'Or is at stake!

Another significant event in the context of the Western audience's fascination with "these enigmatic Russians" is the film "Limonov: The Ballad" by Russian "opposition" director Kirill Serebrennikov, dedicated to Eduard Limonov, a Russian writer, politician, and head of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP). Both the director and the character he chose to highlight are of interest in this context.

The leading role in "Limonov: The Ballad" was played by the renowned British actor Ben Whishaw ("Perfume," "Cloud Atlas"). The film is an adaptation of the novel "Limonov" by the French writer Emmanuel Carrère. The writer’s biography is noteworthy. His mother, Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, a famous French historian and Sovietologist (!), came from a family of Russian-Georgian emigrants and was a distant relative of the current President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili. This likely explains the writer’s long-standing fascination with the USSR and Russia. He met Limonov in the 1980s and visited Moscow in the mid-2000s to write a report about him, which formed the basis of the novel dedicated to the early years of Eduard Limonov’s career, focusing on his period of emigration and his involvement in dissident circles. The book and the film modestly omit the fact that towards the end of his life, Limonov became an overt misanthrope, a propagandist for Putin, supported the annexation of Crimea, and hosted programmes on the propagandist channels NTV and Russia Today. Nonetheless, the novel received wide acclaim in France, where audiences remain easily influenced by the allure of enigmatic Bad Russian Boys. The book topped sales charts for a long time, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy recommended it for reading. It is also notable that writer Emmanuel Carrère co-wrote the screenplay for the upcoming Olivier Assayas film "The Wizard of the Kremlin," dedicated to another Putin henchman and open war criminal, presidential adviser Vladislav Surkov. Undoubtedly, this film with its star-studded cast—Paul Dano, Alicia Vikander, Jude Law—will contribute to the Western audience’s fascination with “complex and ambiguous Russian villains.” Given the global trend towards antiheroes ("Joker," "Venom," "Morbius"), this will not be difficult. 

Perhaps the fascination with attractive Russian criminals in France would be much less if the Russians did in Cannes what they did in Bucha and Izyum. But no - they only export festival cinema, ballet and "great writers" to Europe. Yet…

The personality of Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov is no less interesting and “ambiguous.” To begin with, while still in Russia, Serebrennikov staged plays in his theatre based on works by the aforementioned Surkov (with whom he had friendly relations) and the propagandist writer and war criminal Zakhar Prilepin (whose work he admired). 

In 2022, after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine had begun, Serebrennikov unhesitatingly brought his latest film, "Tchaikovsky’s Wife," to Cannes. At a press conference dedicated to questions about the "cancellation of Russian culture," besides general anti-war statements, he also mentioned that Russians are as much victims of the war as Ukrainians and that help should be extended to everyone, including the families of those killed in the “special military operation” (SMO).

"It is very important to help the victims. In Ukraine and also in Russia, there are refugees, and a certain number of lives have been destroyed. It is very difficult and traumatic for many people, especially considering that Russians feel guilty. It is important to help all the victims and those who are sent to fight, and whose families no longer have an income. Artists should help these people, and I do so myself."

In 2024, when asked by journalists about the appropriateness of a film about a Russian propagandist amid the Russo-Ukrainian war, Serebrennikov responded: "Guys, this is like a Russian 'Joker'... Exactly like the Joker played by Joaquin Phoenix in Todd Phillips’ film. I loved it immensely. 'Joker' seemed like the perfect film that inspired me... Limonov, like the Joker, is a person with an internal drama who also has a very vivid mask. Sometimes it sticks to the face, sometimes it falls off. A person with inner pain, fragility, vulnerability: he is a poet."


Photo: Anton Dolin and Kirill Serebrennikov in Cannes 2024, Source: Facebook

Supporting this notion on social media, opposition Russian film critic Anton Dolin called the film about Limonov a film about a poet, not a propagandist. "The hero of the film is depicted before the National Bolshevik Party membership 95% of the screen time. A poet, not a Nazbol." When asked whether one could imagine a German director in 1942 taking a film around Europe about the future Reich Chancellor of Germany, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, where he is presented as a young lover, a poet, and the author of the novel "Michael," film critic Dolin preferred not to respond.

Following the 77th Cannes Film Festival, it remains only to note that "Russian flowers of evil" are once again blooming vigorously in Europe, and how far these flowers will spread depends not only on the successes of the Ukrainian army at the front but also on the position of the European cultural community.



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