Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov — whose film “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” recently premiered at Cannes, where it is seeking US distribution — condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine after fleeing the country himself but added that he disagreed with the festival’s ban on Russian journalists and cinema.
“If you live inside the war, and you understand you’re inside the war — for a person like me, that’s very painful,” he said in an interview with IndieWire. “I had to say, ‘F— the war, I hate you [Russian president Vladimir Putin], bye.’ You can’t be silent about this war.”
Serebrennikov himself had been in hot water with Russian authorities back in 2017, when he was convicted of embezzlement through his theater company and banned from leaving the country — a decision which outraged human rights groups who denounced the charge as falsified. His sentence was later lifted, and Serebrennikov immigrated to Germany, spurred to relocate as a result of the war despite having to leave behind his 90-year-old father.
However, the director added that he couldn’t condone Cannes’ ban on Russian journalists, delegations and “anyone linked to the Russian government.” Several previously accredited reporters, who were not linked with the state, were denied access to the festival. The filmmaker is the only Russian creative at the festival, and his film was permitted entry since production on it predated the war in Ukraine. While Serebrennikov’s film itself was not government-funded, he sees no issue with allowing space for them.
“If it’s not a propaganda film, no,” he said. “Propaganda is always about the ideas of the government. True art films are about the vulnerability in every human being, about the value of each life.”
Though he said he can understand why many Ukrainian Cannes attendees have called for a complete ban on Russian cinema and creatives, he maintained that the culture is worth preserving — and is difficult to excise from the global consciousness.
“I can see why they say this because everything is very painful for them,” Serebrennikov said. “Even hearing the Russian language is very painful for them because of the war. I understand that and accept this. But we can’t stop language, we can’t stop music, we can’t stop staging, we can’t stop cinema. Can you explain to French people that now at this very minute they have to avoid Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, Eisenstein, Tarkovsky — and forget them all? Of course they won’t, because it’s a part of their consciousness. It’s not so easy to cut off Russian culture when it’s part of global culture.”
Serebrennikov’s own films deal with critical perspectives that examine and contend with darker aspects of Russian culture. His 2018 “Leto” explored the 1980s underground Leningrad rock scene, winning the festival’s soundtrack award. Fantasy dramedy “Petrov’s Flu” — last year’s Cannes entry — satirized modern Russian life. Meanwhile, “Limonov,” his latest project being screened for potential Cannes buyers, follows the story of the radical poet and political dissident Eduard Limonov, who fled to the US in 1974.
Despite this, he faced backlash for accepting financing from Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is dealing with heavy sanctions. Serebrennikov defended him as a “real patron of the arts” and said he didn’t pay close attention to investment details. “I just spent the money,” he said. He previously defended Abramovich on Cannes’ third day, calling for a lifting of sanctions and pointing out that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was against them given Abramovich’s historical support of Ukraine.
He also recalled the negative reception he’s received for his movies from Russian state media, who “hate” what he does and believe he is “destroying Russian culture.” Serebrennikov said, “I’m trying to shoot films about people who have their own relationship with the government. They riot against the system. I don’t like the word dissident but there is no other word for people who started their own rebellion against the state of things.”