The opening ceremony of the 75th Cannes International Film Festival was marked by a surprise live intervention by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who called on the new generation of filmmakers to confront dictators, as Charlie Chaplin had done with his satire of Adolf Hitler in “The Great Dictator” (1940)
By Atmane Tazaghart (text) and Nicolas Chene (video)
Speaking via satellite link, live from Kiev, Zelensky was greeted by a warm standing ovation. Dressed in his now famous olive green shirt, the former actor elected president of Ukraine in 2019, focused his speech on the link between cinema and freedom fights, with strong references to famous cinematographic works, ranging from Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”.
Paraphrasing Chaplin’s final speech in “The Great Dictator”, in which he prophesied: “The hatred of the people will end and the dictators will die. The power that they had taken will return to the people”, Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a message of hope to the Cannes audience: “To all those who can hear me, I say: do not despair. ‘The hatred of the people will end and the dictators will be die’. We must finally win this battle. And we need filmmaking to provide us with such an ending and to make sure that every voice is on the side of freedom.”
Drawing a parallel between Putin and Chaplin’s “Dictator”, Zelensky gave a historical reminder, drawing a blood-red line between the Second World War and the current war in Ukraine: “We thought that everyone had understood that you could conquer people with beauty, by gathering them in front of screens, instead of conquering them with disgrace, by gathering them in bomb shelters. We thought that the horror of a large-scale war that may involve the whole continent would not be followed up. But again, as then, there is a dictator. Once again, as then, there is a war for freedom. Once again, like then, the cinema must not be silenced.”
He added: “Of course, we will continue to fight. And we have no alternative but to fight for freedom. And I am sure that the dictator will lose. But we should hear words like in 1940, words from every screen in the free world. We need a new Chaplin, who will show that the cinema of our time is not silent”…