Cap screwed on his head, dark glasses and sparkling earrings in his ear, Kirill Serebrennikov has made the rounds of the French media in recent days to promote his new film, "Tchaikovsky's Wife".
Released Wednesday, February 15 in dark rooms, the feature film, which explores the troubled relationship between the great composer of the 19th century and his wife Antonina Miliukova, is also an opportunity for the Russian director exiled in Berlin, to discuss the situation. of his country, in the midst of war with Ukraine.
Considered a major director, Kirill Serebrennikov is also perceived in Europe as an emblematic opponent of Vladimir Putin's regime.
But the artist also has detractors, particularly within the Ukrainian art scene, who question his positions and accuse him of maintaining dubious acquaintances.
Kirill Serebrennikov left Russia shortly after the outbreak of war in February and has lived in Berlin ever since.
Before that, the director spent several years under house arrest, accused by Russian justice of having embezzled the equivalent of one million euros in public money through his theater.
Indicted in August 2017 then sentenced in June 2020 to a three-year suspended prison sentence, the filmmaker has continued to proclaim his innocence, supported by many Russian artists as well as a slew of international stars, who castigate a "political" affair. .
Because if he is careful not to openly criticize the regime, the director sometimes tackles sensitive subjects such as homosexuality or the influence of the church on society, likely to disturb the Russian authorities.
Making a statement.
#freekirill #berlinale pic.twitter.com/GkbE35wqCf
— Berlinale (@berlinale) February 24, 2018
During this period, Serebrennikov directed the films "Leto" (2018) and "The Fever of Petrov" (2021) as well as several operas including adaptations of Mozart and Wagner, without however being able to leave Russian territory.
In January 2021, two years before the end of his sentence, this ban was suddenly lifted.
The director is allowed to make a short trip to Berlin, during which he talks about his surprise.
“I probably behaved well,” he quips then.
Controversy in Cannes
In May 2022, the director makes his grand return to the Cannes Film Festival, five years after his first visit for the film "Le disciple" (2016).
Selected for "Leto" and "The Fever of Petrov", the director could not come to the Croisette because of his legal troubles.
Yet his presence, barely four months after the outbreak of the Russian invasion, went badly.
Some wonder about the message sent by the festival by hosting a film on Russian culture, in such a context.
Others attack the director directly, sometimes in a virulent way.
"He's a false opponent, when he was under house arrest he was able to continue shooting his films. Then when the war broke out he was released. Since when does Russia release dissidents in times of war? "
asks Artem Koliubaiev, producer and president of the Ukrainian Film Industry Council, interviewed by France 24 during the festival.
"It's manipulation. Besides, he doesn't say anything about Putin. He says he's against the war… But everyone is against the war, it's not a commitment!"
Defender of "true Russian culture"
Kirill Serebrennikov, for his part, poses as a defender of dissident Russian art, affirming that "the real Russian culture is not that of propaganda".
During his press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, he ignites the controversy a little more by asking for the lifting of sanctions against the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, whom he claims has greatly helped the contemporary culture of his country.
Through his company Kinoprime, the businessman co-financed the director's last two films.
A Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov was allowed to participate in the Cannes Festival.
And he used the opportunity to call for the lifting of the Western sanctions against a Russian businessman.
It's time to re-think our approach to inviting these people to our events.
— Anton Shekhovtsov ✚ (@A_SHEKH0VTS0V) May 19, 2022
In a forum, Béatrice Picon-Vallin, former director of research at the CNRS and specialist in Russian theater, draws attention to the links between the director and Vladislav Sourkov, historical adviser to Vladimir Putin, "designated by the independent Russian media as 'his protector'".
Serebrennikov presented, in July, his adaptation of Chekhov's short story "Monk Black" at the Avignon Festival, punctuated by the appearance of the message "Stop the war", in giant letters.
In Paris, during the promotion of 'The Woman of Tchaikovsky'", the filmmaker hammered home his message again, castigating a conflict "suicidal for Russia".
"We must reaffirm that war is a crime and that we are all against it. It is important to show our connection to all those who suffer this inhuman and criminal war".
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