Cannes Film Fest 2022: Ukraine Day

From Ukrainian President Zelensky’s address on opening night to vivid anti-war protest on the red carpet, the real world has punctured the fest in stark and unsettling ways this year


On Wednesday night when a thunderous roar sounded over the Croisette. The ground began to shake and the sky filled with orange smoke.
The roar was from French fighter jets flying over the nearby Top Gun: Maverick premiere, promoting the Tom Cruise film to everyone within earshot, whether they had a ticket to the theater that night or not.

The Maverick flyover moment was either a delightful display of showmanship and a welcome moment of escape from these dreary, homebound pandemic years, or a frightening stunt, insensitive to the victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine some 1,200 miles away.

Much of Cannes so far has unfolded in this polarizing way, with the gowns, the yachts and the flowing rosé — which can feel decadent and out of touch in the best of times — an even more jarring than usual contrast to the world outside the French Riviera.

If you’re drinking and laughing at beachside gatherings at Cannes this year, are you flipping the bird at Vladimir Putin and COVID, or are you just Sally Bowles in Cabaret, insisting on keeping the party going even as the sound of boots outside the Kit Kat Club gets louder?

Occasionally the real world has intruded into the bubble of Cannes in dramatic fashion, as when a protester disrupted the Three Thousand Years of Longing premiere Friday night, stripping nearly naked to reveal the colors of the Ukrainian flag and the words “Stop Raping Us” painted on her chest. In one of many tale-of-two-Cannes moments, just as security was dragging the protester away from the red carpet, up the coast at the glittering Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, stars like Alicia Vikander and Cannes juror Noomi Rapace were dining at an elegant party hosted by Louis Vuitton and Vanity Fair.

The festival has acknowledged the war in some direct ways, most strikingly when Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky appeared via a live video call from Kyiv during the opening ceremonies, telling the room of filmmakers and press, “It’s necessary for cinema not to be silent.” Forest Whitaker, who was on hand to receive an honorary Palme d’Or that night, seemed to grasp that he was speaking to a shell-shocked audience, however glamorous it might look in black tie. “For years we’ll be processing the trauma of what’s happened to us,” Whitaker said, citing the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and social justice protests of the last two years.

Russian dissident director Kirill Serebrennikov used the press conference for his competition film, Tchaikovsky’s Wife, as an opportunity to call for the lifting of sanctions on Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch who finances his art house films. “These are not propaganda films,” Serebrennikov said of the movies Abramovich has funded. “Quite the contrary. Boycotting Russian culture strikes me as unbearable because Russian culture has always promoted human values.”

On Thursday, the festival premiered Mariupolis 2, a documentary from director Mantas Kvedaravicius, who was killed in Ukraine in early April while working on the follow-up to his 2016 doc about the lives of citizens in Mariupol as the threat of war with Russia escalated.

Saturday was Ukraine Day at the Marché, with a conference to discuss reconstruction opportunities for the industry there. “I want to bring a lot of films to Ukraine,” says producer Molly Conners of Phiphen Pictures, who had been preparing to shoot the movie Karski, a biopic of a Polish resistance fighter during World War II, in Kyiv before both the pandemic and the war interfered. “I love the filmmakers over there — it’s a wonderful place to work.”

For those trying to do business with Ukrainian colleagues at the festival, navigating the impact of the war requires a delicate balance. At meetings, Conners says, “They say, ‘I’d like to talk to you about cinema and music, but we have to just live first and get through this war. And then we rebuild’.”