European Film Academy President Agnieszka Holland Criticizes Cannes Film Festival For Including Russian Film
“If it were up to me, I wouldn’t include Russian films in the official festival program, even though Kirill Serebrennikov is such a talented artist,” Holland said. The 73-year-old filmmaker, whose 1990 Holocaust drama ‘Europa Europa’ was nominated for an Oscar, was speaking at a roundtable in support of Ukrainian filmmakers, as reported Variety.
In a telephone interview with the Washington Post from Cannes, Holland clarified his position. “That doesn’t mean that I want to cancel Russian culture completely,” she said. “I think now is just not the right time to go to red carpets and celebrate films that are made in Russia with Russian money.”
While some defend Serebrennikov, calling him a dissident artist, Holland says it’s not that simple, at least not for an artist partially funded by an oligarch. “It’s very difficult to make a distinction and say, ‘He’s a good Russian, he’s a bad Russian,’ because movies are made with money, and money isn’t as noble as ‘we would like it.’
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Holland’s remarks are part of an ongoing debate over sanctions against Russia and come after other cultural institutions canceled appearances by Russian artists. On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke via video call at the festival’s opening ceremony. A woman ran down the red carpet to protest Russian war crimes on Friday, with the message “Stop Raping Us” written across her bare chest, in blue and yellow body paint. And another film showing at Cannes, “The Natural History of Destruction” by Sergei Loznitsa is causing controversy because its Ukrainian director was expelled from the Ukrainian Film Academy for not supporting a boycott of all Russian films.
In response to the war, Cannes banned an official delegation from Russia from attending the festival. But they invited Serebrennikov, who has publicly spoken out against the war in Ukraine, Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and the Russian government’s attack on LGBTQ rights, and who recently relocated to Germany. After the premiere of “Tchaikovsky’s Wife”, Serebrennikov declared “No to war” and called for an end to the cultural boycott against Russian artists, adding that “Culture is in the air. It’s water and it’s clouds, so it’s completely independent of nationality.
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Serebrennikov also came to the defense of Abramovich, 55, owner of Chelsea football club and who took part in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. Although Abramovich denied having financial ties to Putin, the British government imposed sanctions on him, citing the financial benefits he received from the Russian government and his “close relationship” with Putin “for decades.” “We need to lift the sanctions against Abramovich,” Serebrennikov said. “He was a real patron of the arts, and in Russia that was always appreciated.”
Holland expressed his disappointment with Serebrennikov at Cannes. “Unfortunately, my bad feelings were confirmed by his words,” she said during the roundtable, pointing out that he was trying to equate the pain of Russian soldiers with that of Ukrainian defenders. “I wouldn’t give him such a chance right now.”
Festival organizers defended their decision to include “Tchaikovsky’s Wife,” noting that its plot, which explores the marriage of the composer and homosexuality – something the Russian government has long tried to hide – goes against the narratives of the Russian state. They also noted that the film was made before the Russian invasion, although members of the Ukrainian delegation at Cannes pushed back, arguing that filming may have stretched into the spring.
Holland, who chairs the European Film Academy — who recently ban all russian movies of the European Film Awards – took a broader view, saying all Russian cultural output, even 18th-century classics, must be reassessed in the wake of what she called “Russian imperialist aggression.”
Holland has its own history with Russia. Born in 1948 in Poland at the dawn of communist rule, she spent time in prison for her involvement in the Prague Spring protests of 1968, which were eventually quashed by Soviet forces. She then fled Poland for France in 1981. Her film “Mr. Jones”, released on demand in 2020, was based on the true story of a Welsh journalist who discovers the story of Joseph Stalin. intentional starvation of Ukraine in the 1930s, known as the Holodomor.
The Cannes Film Festival, which runs until May 28, includes the premiere of “Mariupolis 2a documentary by Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravicius, who was killed by Russian soldiers while filming in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Saturday at the festival, the whole day was devoted to Ukrainian cinema.
For Hollande, the current circumstances in Europe have created a strange atmosphere in Cannes. “We have Zelensky’s speech, and after that we have a fun zombie killing movie,” Holland told The Post. “In my jury, there is a young Ukrainian director whose husband is in the army. And she’s there, but all the time she’s on her phone trying to figure out if he’s alive.
“It’s all mixed up. It’s very strange, very surreal.