Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov is banned from leaving his home country and thus cannot legally attend the Cannes Film Festival this summer, where his film “Petrov’s Flu” will debut in competition, his lawyer told AFP Monday.
The 51-year-old helmer was sentenced in June 2020 to a three-year suspended prison sentence and issued a fine over a case of embezzlement.
His supporters argue that the case against him was politically motivated, since his daring work engages with politics, sex and religion in ways frowned upon by the Russian state, which is calling for a return to more conservative “traditional” values.
“Kirill cannot leave Russian territory,” his lawyer Dmitri Kharitonov confirmed, noting that the director’s travel ban will remain in place until June 2023. His suspended sentence means that he does not have to spend time in prison.
This year will mark his second Cannes no-show. He was also absent from the festival in 2018, despite a nomination to compete for the Palme d’Or with his edgy 1980s-set musical “Leto (Summer).”
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Despite entreaties to Russian authorities by Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux, he was stuck in house arrest in Moscow after being arrested the year before in St. Petersburg during the film’s production. Charges were leveled that he had embezzled around $2 million (129 million rubles) in government funds from the Gogol Center, an avant-garde Moscow arts complex that he ran.
His team had to finish “Leto” without him, which he edited from his apartment and sent off to Cannes.
Amidst his trial for those charges last June, numerous international arts and human rights groups called for the case to be dropped. They included: Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Film Network, the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR), PEN America’s Artists At Risk Connection (ARC), the European Film Academy (EFA), the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the Rotterdam International Film Festival (IFFR), the International Documentary Association (IDA), the Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) and the Federation of European Film Directors (FERA).
In a statement at the time, Human Rights Watch condemned what it called the “baseless targeting” of Serebrennikov.
“The state’s leap to criminal embezzlement charges seems to be a thinly veiled way to retaliate against Serebrennikov for his political criticism and to send a chilling message to other artists – who have no choice but to accept state funding to survive as artists – to refrain from political criticism,” it said, noting in particular the director’s public support for LGBTQ isues and criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church and state censorship.
Serebrennikov first attended Cannes with his 2016 religious drama “The Student,” which screened in the Un Certain Regard section.
“Petrov’s Flu” is an adaptation of a 2018 novel Russia’s Alexei Salnikov. Though conceived before the COVID-19 outbreak, it tells a surreal, hallucinatory story of a family’s struggles to survive the chaos of a flu pandemic. Serebrennikov wrote the film, set to hit Russian cinemas on Sept. 9, while under house arrest.
It was produced by Moscow’s Hype Film (whose credits include Vadim Perelman’s “Persian Lessons” and Mona Fastvold’s “The World to Come”) and co-produced by Charades Productions, Logical Pictures, Bord Cadre Films, Razor Film Production and Sovereign Films. It was backed by Kinoprime, ARTE France Cinema and ZDF. It will be released in France by Bac Film. Charades is handling international sales.
Watch the trailer for “Petrov’s Flu,” released Monday, in Russian below.