Zelensky and Whitaker steal the show

Dose of Ukrainian reality hits the red carpet glamour in Cannes

by Richard Mowe

Forest Whitaker receiving his honorary Palme from Cannes outgoing President Pierre Lescure
Forest Whitaker receiving his honorary Palme from Cannes outgoing President Pierre Lescure Photo: Richard Mowe
The surprise star of the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival - besides the honorary Palme recipient Forest Whitaker - was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

He appeared live from Kyiv on the big screen in the giant Lumière theatre, issuing a heart-wrenching plea for his country.

His passion and conviction before a glammed up crowd of actors, celebrities, juries and directors will doubtless put to shame many of the performances to be seen over the next 15 days.

He referenced Charlie Chaplin’s Nazi satire The Great Dictator as an illustration of the power of cinema. The one-time TV actor from Servant of the People said: “The world needs a new Chaplin who will prove that cinema must not be silent. We need cinema to show that each time the ending will be on the side of freedom.”

Two Ukrainians in the same row where I was sitting unfurled their country’s flag and stood up and waved as their president spoke.

Live from Kyiv President Volodymyr Zelensky stole the show with en emotional plea and a reference to the power of cinema, in this instance Charlie Chaplin’s Nazi satire The Great Dictator
Live from Kyiv President Volodymyr Zelensky stole the show with en emotional plea and a reference to the power of cinema, in this instance Charlie Chaplin’s Nazi satire The Great Dictator Photo: Richard Mowe
Meanwhile it was also an emotional evening for Forest Whitaker who initially came to Cannes 34 years ago for the premiere of Clint Eastwood’s Charlie Parker tale Bird. It was the first time he had been acknowledged as an “artist.”

Earlier at a press conference he explained: “I’d never really been to a film festival. I was with Clint Eastwood … and everyone was shouting Clint … Clint. I was so new. I had just been trying to play that part and now I was here and when I was acknowledged, it touched my heart. It really was a great gift. I remember the night before I was in my room and my brother was with me. He said, ‘They say it’s possible you could win something,’ and I said, ‘Are you serious?'”

Michel Hazanavicus and Bérénice Bejo at the Cannes opening night with the directors zombie satire Final Cut
Michel Hazanavicus and Bérénice Bejo at the Cannes opening night with the directors zombie satire Final Cut Photo: Richard Mowe
He has been back on many occasions bringing such films to the official competition as Bill Duke’s A Rage in Harlem, Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers and Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai. Besides the tribute he is on the Croisette as a producer of Christophe Castagne and Thomas Sametin’s South Sudan-set documentary For The Sake Of Peace which reflects his humanitarian concerns as a Unesco ambassador.

Whitaker revealed that he is now set to star in Francis Ford Coppola’s $100 million Megalopolis, the director’s first feature in more than a decade and a film that has reportedly been in the works for 20 years.

He hasn’t ruled out directing again but in the immediate future Whitaker seems content to be working with Coppola on a “not insubstantial” role in the film, which he added “deals with the city and the power structures within it infighting for power, one progressive and one conservative.”

He suggested that the film (also starring Adam Driver, Nathalie Emmanuel and Jon Voight) would start shooting in August.

What Whitaker or Zelensky would have made of Michel Hazanvicius’s opening film Final Cut (Coupez!), a remake of a Japanese cult comedy with lashings of blood and gore is anyone’s guess. It is the eighth feature from the director of The Artist - but seems laboured with loads of in-jokes that fall flat. Most observers don’t think there will be any more Oscars looming.

Share this with others on...
News

Shaping myths Elena López Riera on the shifting nature of stories and gender roles in The Water

A world in miniature Erige Sehiri reflects on the origin and themes of Under The Fig Trees

The almost futuristic Shirin Neshat on Michael Brook, Sheila Vand, Isabella Rossellini, Matt Dillon, Sam Shepard and Land Of Dreams

Finding trust Phillip Lewitski and Joshua Odjick on working relationships, wasps and Wildhood

Describing the nuances Moshe Rosenthal in conversation on Karaoke, Sasson Gabay, Rita Shukrun, and Lior Ashkenazi

KVIFF rebuffs Ukrainian protest Karlovy Vary organisers defend inclusion of film, which is 'critical of Russian regime'

More news and features

We're bringing you all the latest from Sheffield DocFest.



We're looking forward to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the Fantasia International Film Festival and Outfest Los Angeles.



We've recently covered the Tribeca Film Festival, Canadian 2SLGBTQ festival Inside Out, the Cheltenham International Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival, the Sci-Fi London Film Festival, Brazil's Fantaspoa and New Directors/New Films.



Read our full for more.


Visit our festivals section.

Interact

Win Blu-ray copies of The Burning Sea, plus a trio of films from Studiocanal's Vintage Classics series - The Third Man, The Man Who Fell To Earth and The Elephant Man in our latest competitions.