A nearly naked woman storms the red carpet in protest at the rape of war victims. Many conversations and some contributions in Cannes are also about Ukraine – in addition, guests celebrate in evening dresses.

“Nothing is normal at the moment.” Iris Berben sums it up. How does it feel to celebrate the film world on the Côte d’Azur while war is raging not far away?

“One is ambivalent with one’s feelings, with everything that is happening in the world at the same time,” the actress describes her experience of this year’s film festival. “And Cannes now has to behave differently politically.”

The red carpet is stormed

At one of the world’s most important film festivals, everything is different than ever. During the opening ceremony, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj surprisingly joined in for a ten-minute speech. During the premiere of “Three Thousand Years of Longing” (a rather non-political film about genie in a bottle and storytelling), a woman storms the red carpet, almost naked, painted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. And screams: “Stop Raping Us” – protest against the rape of war victims.

Then, shortly before the festival begins, the film “Mariupolis 2” is spontaneously included in the programme. Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius traveled to the war zone to document the war of aggression. In early April he was captured and murdered during filming. This is what witnesses report, the film festival itself and his fiancée Hanna Bilobrowa, who edited the film material and is now presenting it in Cannes.

“It’s not a joke, it’s death”

“Mariupolis 2” leaves you shaken. Where words fail, the pictures speak. We see people huddled in dark corridors. We see smoke billowing over the city and its ruins, filmed from a broken window. The camera shakes and every few seconds bombs cut through the audio. “It’s not a joke, it’s death,” says one resident.

Other Ukrainian filmmakers are also in Cannes. Maksim Nakonechnyi will present his debut «Butterfly Vision», which tells the story of a Ukrainian soldier who returns to her family after several months in Donbass captivity. Nakonechnyi is one of the many Ukrainian filmmakers who stayed in the country to document what is currently happening there. And to present it to the world, for example here in the south of France.

Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk, who came to Cannes with his film “Pamfir” – and said at the premiere that he felt “like an alien” because there are fireworks and peace in Cannes, while in his home country there is a whole give another reality.

This year, the film festival launched the “Ukraine in Focus” initiative at its business counterpart, the “Marché du film”. It aims to network and support Ukrainian filmmakers with the industry. In this context, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton met 30 Ukrainian filmmakers who traveled to the Côte d’Azur with the help of the EU.

Another contribution by a Ukrainian director is «The Natural History of Destruction» by Sergei Loznitsa. He tells of the destruction of German cities by Allied air raids in World War II, based on archive footage. The film was made before the current war of aggression, but has now become particularly topical.

“If we look at what’s happening right now, we see that the armies of different states and the military leadership of different armies still think it’s possible and even reasonable to attack civilians and destroy cities, targeting civilian infrastructure to start war operate,” Loznitsa told the Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Loznitsa was expelled from his country’s film academy for not wanting to support the academy’s call for a complete boycott of Russian films. Which leads to a prominent Russian director also appearing at Cannes. In the competition, Kirill Serebrennikov presents his latest film about the desolate marriage of composer Peter Tchaikovsky and his wife Antonina Miliukova.

But the associated press conference is less about the film – but about the question of who financed it, whether questionable Russian funds were involved (Serebrennikov’s answer is: no). It’s about the war and again about the question of the boycott of Russian artists, which Serebrennikov naturally does not support.

And outsiders also comment on the war in Cannes. The director Cristian Mungiu or the actor Woody Harrelson, for example. How strange that in addition to all these contributions and discussions, the festival also goes on as usual. Women stride across the carpet in maximalist evening gowns. Champagne is drunk at receptions, or “Kylie Minogue Rosé”. Two women at a bar discuss whether Tom Cruise’s hair is dyed. Fans chain their ladders to the barriers to secure a good spot for autographs.

Keyword Tom Cruise: For the presentation of the ultimate blockbuster at the festival, “Top Gun: Maverick”, the aerobatic team of the French Air Force actually flies over the Festspielhaus. A strange decision at a time when a war of aggression is raging in Europe.

So how do you stand it, this simultaneity of war and glamorous celebrations? Iris Berben, who came to Cannes for her role in the film “Triangle of Sadness”, helps us with an answer.

“Of course you ask yourself: what are you doing here?” she says. “You have to answer that for yourself, but it remains a contradiction, that’s clear. And yet I think that culture, art and film are always a link. There is always the opportunity to connect with one another.” So that you don’t stagnate in your own helplessness. “It’s a reason that helps me. I also live with this contradiction of being here.”