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Cannes Film Festival opens with address by Ukrainian President Zelensky

Urvashi Rautela at the opening ceremony (Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
Urvashi Rautela at the opening ceremony (Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

The Cannes Film Festival kicked off Tuesday with an eye turned to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and a video message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Stars including Eva Longoria, Julianne Moore, Berenice Bejo and No Time To Die star Lashana Lynch were among those who streamed down Cannes’ red carpet for the opening of the 75th Cannes Film Festival and the premiere of Michel Hazanavicius’ zombie comedy Final Cut.

More premieres, like Top Gun: Maverick and Elvis, await over the next 12 days, during which 21 films will vie for the festival’s prestigious top award, the Palme d’Or.

But Tuesday’s opening and the carefully choreographed red-carpet parade leading up the steps to the Grand Theatre Lumiere again restored one of the movies’ grandest pageants after two years of pandemic that have challenged the exalted stature Cannes annually showers on cinema.

But the war in Ukraine remained in Cannes’ spotlight.

During the festival’s opening ceremony, Mr Zelensky spoke at length about the connection between cinema and reality, referencing films like Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator as inspirations to him.

France Cannes 2022 Whitaker Photo Call
Forest Whitaker was awarded an honorary Palme d’Or (Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

“The power they’ve taken from the people will be returned to the people,” said Mr Zelensky.

This year’s Cannes opened with the premiere of Final Cut, which was renamed from its original title, Z, after Ukrainian protesters noted that the letter Z to some symbolises support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine is expected to be a regular presence in Cannes.

The festival has barred Russians with ties to the government.

Set to screen are several films from prominent Ukrainian filmmakers, including Sergei Loznitsa’s documentary The Natural History of Destruction.

Footage shot by Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravicius before he was killed in Mariupol in April will also be shown by his fiancee, Hanna Bilobrova.

France Cannes 2022 Opening Ceremony Red Carpet
Eva Longoria at the opening ceremony (Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

After last year requiring regular Covid-19 testing and masks in cinemas, and no kisses on the red carpet, Cannes has largely done away with pandemic protocols. Masks are recommended inside but are rarely worn.“Dear friends, let’s come out of this dark together,” said opening ceremony host Virginie Efira.

Cannes presented an honorary Palme d’Or to Forest Whitaker, who received a thunderous standing ovation.

Whitaker, who won best actor at Cannes 34 years ago for his performance as Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood’s Bird, said that while climbing the steps to the Palais des Festivals on Tuesday, he could still hear chants of “Clint! Clint!” ringing in his ears.

Eastwood is one of few others who have been awarded an honorary Palme.

On Tuesday, Cannes also announced the jury that will award the Palme d’Or.

France Cannes 2022 Opening Ceremony Red Carpet
Lashana Lynch (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

French actor Vincent Lindon is leading a jury that includes Deepika Padukone, Rebecca Hall, Asghar Farhadi, Trinca, Ladj Ly, Noomi Rapace, Jeff Nichols and Joachim Trier.

Questions of gender equality have long surrounded the Cannes Film Festival, where no more than five female filmmakers have ever been a part of the Palme competition line-up and only two women directors have won it.

Hall, who last year made her directorial debut with the film Passing, said: “I believe that it is a work in progress. I mean for the whole film industry, not just the Cannes Film Festival.

“The way of dealing with these things needs to be addressed on a grassroots level as well. It’s not just the festivals or public-facing situations. It’s about all the minutiae of what goes into the industry at large.”

At the tradition-upholding Cannes, the world’s largest and most glitzy temple to film, cinema, controversy and glamour swirl together in a 12-day spectacle of red carpet premieres and rampant movie deal-making up and down the Croisette.

Theatrical release is a requirement of any film vying for the Palme, which has prevented streaming services from playing a big role at Cannes.

But this year, one new festival partner, TikTok, has raised some eyebrows.

The festival is hosting TikTok creators from around the world and holding a separate contest for best (very short) videos created during the festival.