It sounds obvious, but these are times when the obvious needs to be repeated. It is not by boycotting the Russians, let alone geniuses like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov and Piotr Tchaikovsky, that we will do anything effective for the end of the war in Ukraine and for peace. Should we even less deprive people of the theatre, of musiccinema, in short, Russian culture.
Who said it was Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov who, unlike filmmakers aligned with the Putin regime and official Russian government entourages, was not banned from the 2022 Cannes Film Festival d’Or, but did unable to attend the festival due to a house arrest to which he was subjected, finally the filmmaker, theater director and cultural producer, one of the most influential in contemporary Russia, was able to present his latest film at the festival: “Tchaikovsky Wife”, or “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” in free translation.
In the film, he tells the story of Antonina Ivanovna Miliukova, the wife of the great Russian composer. Although it is set in the 19th century and is a period drama with a tragic side, the film communicates with the present time. This is because it deals with the frustration Antonina experienced when she was in love with a man who didn’t want her. Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality and the question of freedom of choice permeate the entire film and the dialogue with contemporary Russia, where freedom of expression and homosexuality are more than controversial issues.
This is Kirill’s third film to be nominated for the Palma. The previous ones were the great “Leto” (“Summer” in Portuguese, which can be rented a la carte in Brazil) and the surreal “A Febre de Petrov”, from 2018 and 2021 respectively. Kirill has an eclectic style, varies in the language, to deal with themes that always speak, ultimately, of the right to freedom and even to happiness.
In “Summer”, he told the story of a young Russian musician in the 1980s, when underground rock was considered subversive. The film tells the true story of the Kino group, which was born in Leningrad and revealed the first big name in Russian rock: Vitor Tsoi (played by Teo Yoo). It’s no coincidence that the film’s soundtrack is delightful and the presence of musician Roman Bilyk in the cast of the film makes it nearly impossible to watch the film and not feel like running to download all the songs. , even without understanding a word in Russian.
In “Petrov Fever”, curiously, but not by chance, Kirill films a city undergoing an epidemic of influenza in post-Soviet Russia. In the plot, cartoonist Petrov (Semyon Serzin) and his family try to survive one more day in a country where the past is still present and where reality is sometimes more surreal than fiction. Based on the novel “Petrovs in and around the flu”, by Alexey Salnikov, the feature film takes Petrov’s character on a long feverish march, mixing fantasy and reality, in a delirious spiral.
This time, in Tchaikovsky Wife”, Kirill builds a more classic but dynamic narration, which brings back the atmosphere of the 19th century, but which also makes room for dreams and a certain surrealism in the delirious scenes of Antonina (Alyona Mikhailova) mixing sex and desire.
As already mentioned, in both movies In previous years, he had not been able to be in Cannes because he had been imprisoned in his own house in Moscow, after being accused of embezzling public funds from a major project he directed in Russia, the Center Gogol, a renowned cultural center that brings together cinema, theater, performance, among other arts, which he directed from 2012 to 2021 also in the Russian capital.
Started in 2017, the case mobilized the whole Russian society, intellectuals, artists and other representatives of society wrote letters in defense of Kirill, including even the dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. For the filmmaker’s defenders, the affair was just a big show to weaken the performance of Kirill who, at the head of Gogol, has always criticized Putin’s authoritarianism, dealing with sensitive subjects in Russian society, such as the influence of religion on society, corruption and sexuality.
Public success, Gogol’s productions also attract the attention of the powerful and the pretext of embezzlement is perfect to keep him away from the scene. Did not work. Kirill continued to work from home, filming, and was eventually cleared.
Today, he is in exile in Berlin and was finally able to participate in the Cannes Film Festival. But his figure will always remain marked and linked to political issues. In times of war, it is impossible not to address the issue. At the end of the “Tchaikovsky’s wife” gala screening, he took advantage of the few minutes granted to the directors to speak to the restricted audience of the Grand Théâtre Lumière to defend peace. During the film’s press conference on Thursday, instead of discussing more of the artistic stakes of the film, war and politics set the tone. Kirill was bombarded with questions about the war in Ukraine, of course, and about Putin’s authoritarian stance, finding resources to make his movies, and boycotting Russians around the world.
Very patient, the filmmaker takes a stand against war and once again defends the importance of cinema, art and freedom of expression to achieve peace. Although he is against the boycott of Russian artists, of Russian culture, he even defended the Cannes Film Festival, which banned artists linked to the Putin government. He even defended Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich. “He was a real patron in Russia. And that was always appreciated there. He created a foundation that helped the best Russian artists. And it’s not propaganda,” said the filmmaker, who has also defended the position of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “He asked Joe Biden not impose sanctions on Abramovich.
And he’s right. Abramovich is one of those who fought for peace and I think that’s something I totally agree with Zelensky. We need to end the sanctions against Abramovich,” Kirill said, explaining why he is one of the most influential names, not just in Russian culture today.
Kirill takes a stand, he doesn’t exactly make political films, but politics pervades everything he does. If it already concerned Europe and the most fervent cinephiles before the war in Ukraine, it deserves to be discovered by the general public today.
At a time when cinephilia and cinema suffer from the quarrel of social networks, Diffusion and even blockbusters, venturing into contemporary Russian cinema is yet another way to open minds and broaden understanding of complex Russian society.
“Culture is what makes people feel alive. Music, literature, cinema? I’ve said that many times. Boycotting Russian culture hits me unbearably,” he said. he added, which is generally underfunded by the public to make its films, but with private funds and in the form of co-production with other European countries.
If each festival has themes that move the discussions (in 2021, for example, the women in management set the tone, with the Palme d’or awarded to the audacious “Titane”, by Julia Ducournau), 2022 will be marked by war. Although happy to finally be in Cannes, this edition has a bitter taste for the filmmaker, who is the son of a Ukrainian mother and a Russian Jewish father. “We don’t feel much better about this war. We have all suffered from tragedy. was released at the start of the war and I am in Berlin, which offered me a job,” he says.
Kirill admits that Russians feel guilty, “but the attitude of the world should not apply to all Russians.” “We have to help everyone, help families who can’t support themselves. I’m doing it. I won’t talk about it, but I’m helping. I have Ukrainian friends who are suffering,” he said. he adds.
In the next few days, Ukrainian cinema is coming to Cannes, with different productions that deal with war and wars. In other words, the debate is launched and the subject is far from closed. But, as Kirill concluded, cinema is about people. “I’m interested in the lives of these people, and the life you feel, the pain and the emotion.”