On a live video call from Kyiv, as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, Zelensky addressed the room of filmmakers, press, festival attendees and staff, as well as stars like Julianne Moore and Forest Whitaker, saying, “It’s necessary for cinema not to be silent.”
During his impassioned speech, which was translated live into French in the Palais and then into English for those who spoke the language, Zelensky made several references to movies, including Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, a satire about Adolf Hitler and Nazism made in 1940 prior to America entering World War II. He called on filmmakers not to stand by idly during the war. “The most brutal dictators of the 20th century loved cinema,” noted Zelensky, who pointed out the irony that the movies that were made about these dictators were “horrific documentaries and newsreels.”
Zelensky also referenced the infamous line from Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War movie Apocalypse Now, quoting, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” noting that Russia’s invasion and bombing of Ukrainian cities also “started in the morning.” Jurors Vincent Lindon, Rebecca Hall, Joachim Trier, Jeff Nichols, Noomi Rapace, Asghar Farhadi, Jasmine Trinca and Ladj Ly looked on from the stage as the president made his address.
Prior to this, there were multiple references to the war in Ukraine throughout the evening. During a speech, honorary Palme d’Or winner Whitaker said, “Throughout the past two years, some of us have lost our loved ones to the pandemic or forced to flee to the safety of other homes because of invasions and wars, such as Ukraine.” The emcee for the evening noted that “Ukrainian directors and Russian dissident filmmakers” have a place in Cannes, and also referenced 1958 Palme d’Or winner The Cranes Are Flying, a Soviet-era film about the devastation caused by World War II.
Opening the festival was Michel Hazanavicius’ French-language zombie comedy Coupéz. The film was previously titled Z, but Hazanavicius changed the name of the film after a letter was sent to him and the festival by the Ukrainian Institute explaining that “Z” has become a symbol of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, used in pro-Russian demonstrations. “My film is made to bring joy and under no circumstances would I want it to be associated directly or indirectly with this war,” said the director in a statement announcing the name change.
“I’m sure that the dictator will lose,” concluded Zelensky, who never referenced Russian President Vladimir Putin by name. Zelensky signed off: “Glory to Ukraine.”