Russia’s Cannes candidate defends Roman Abramovich as a ‘patron of the arts’ | Cannes 2022

Russian dissident director Kirill Serebrennikov is calling for the lifting of sanctions against Roman Abramovich, one of the investors behind his latest film. The Russian oligarch, who is now trying to sell Chelsea football club due to financial restrictions imposed on him by the British government, was a valued patron of the arts, the manager said.

Abramovich’s record as a major cinema sponsor must be taken into account, Serebrennikov added, speaking at the Cannes film festival. “We need to lift the sanctions against Abramovich. He was a true patron of the arts and in Russia that has always been appreciated,” the director said after the Wednesday night premiere of his film Tchaikovsky’s Wife, in competition for the festival’s coveted Palme d’Or.

Serebrennikov is one of the few Russian filmmakers invited to take part in the festival this year and he is using the platform to oppose a general boycott of Russian art and culture in Europe.

Ukrainian delegates to Cannes questioned the timing of filming itself, which they said could have continued until April. Interviewed on Thursday, Serebrennikov said he had not received any money directly from the Russian state since he was a student. The funds, he said, then came from the civil service, not directly from wealthy individuals. “Up until then, it wasn’t toxic money,” he said. “There was nothing shameful about it.” He added that Abramovich’s film foundation, Kinoprime, helped fund his last two films.

Serebrennikov (far right) with producer Ilya Stewart (far left) and stars of Tchaikovsky’s wife Odin Biron and Alyona Mikhailova. Photography: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Tchaikovsky’s Wife depicts the troubled marriage of composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Antonina Miliukova, and examines 19th-century repressive attitudes toward homosexuality, women, and mental health. Accustomed to Cannes in recent years, Serebrennikov participated last year from a distance, due to the pandemic. His joy at being present in person in May was overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, he said.

“I’m not totally happy to be here because there are bombs falling on the cities,” he said. The director explained that his criticism of the war got him into trouble in Russia. In 2020, Serebrennikov was convicted of embezzlement and given a suspended prison sentence, after criticizing Russia’s capture of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and speaking out in support of the LGBTQ community. + besieged from Russia. “I was summoned to court, then I was released on bail. So I came to Europe, because that’s where the work is.

This year the festival did not accept official Russian delegations and Serebrennikov questioned the widespread nature of these bans. “I can understand people calling for a boycott, but I don’t accept it,” he said.

“What is happening in Ukraine is very painful. It’s unbearable,” he added, explaining that he thought “this Russian imperialist push should stop.” But he said he did not see that a complete ban on cultivation was the answer. “Culture is the air, it is the water and it is the clouds, and therefore it is completely independent of nationality,” he said.

The question of Russia’s place in the film industry and the role of entertainment during a war continues to dominate the early days of the festival, drawing inspiration from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s speech at the festival on screen on Tuesday.

“Will the cinema be silent or will it speak? If there is a dictator, if there is a war for freedom, again everything depends on our unity. Can cinema remain outside of this unity? Zelensky asked.

Thursday also saw the premiere of the documentary Mariupolis 2, assembled from footage recovered from a new project in Ukraine directed by Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius. Kvedaravičius was killed in the conflict, but his fiancée Hanna Bilobrova brought the footage the director had already made to a special screening held at the Palais des Festivals.

Cannes will also see the controversial screening of The Natural History of Destruction, directed by Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine’s best-known filmmaker, also of Russian and Belarusian descent. In March, the Ukrainian Film Academy expelled Loznitsa because he did not support its call for a boycott of all Russian films.

Serebrennikov was asked if he would donate the proceeds of Tchaikovsky’s wife to Ukrainian war victims, which Abramovich said he would do with the money he receives from the sale of Chelsea FC. Actress Alyona Mikhailova, who plays the composer’s wife in her film, was visibly moved when Serebrennikov replied that he wanted support for Russian families hard hit by the war as well as Ukrainians.

“It is very important to help all the victims. People in Russia are also traumatized and some can no longer work or they have left their families,” Serebrennikov said. Its producer, Ilya Stewart, explained that there were unlikely to be any profits. “We are very far from making money on this film. The context is that it was an investment in the arts.

Returning to his call for the lifting of sanctions against the owner of Chelsea FC, Serebrennikov said: “Abramovich created Kinoprime to support the best Russian films of recent years and they are certainly not propaganda films, quite the contrary. Zelenskiy also asked that he not face any sanctions as he can be one of the key people in forging a peace.

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