The Ukrainian Institute has issued an official letter to the Cannes Film Festival and French director Michel Hazanavicius asking them to rename his opening night movie “Z (Comme Z),” which the org claims is a pro-war symbol of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In Russia, “Z” is considered a pro-war symbol that has also been used in pro-Russian demonstrations across Europe. The symbol has recently been adopted by some Russian figures taking part in world events, such as gymnast Ivan Kuliak who, while in Qatar for a World Cup event, sported a “Z” on his chest while standing on a podium next to Ukrainian athlete Illia Kovtun. Last week, Lithuania’s parliament voted to ban public displays of the letter “Z” in protest of the ongoing war.

A letter sent to Cannes by the Ukrainian Institute, and seen by Variety, reads: “We consider that changing the title of the opening film of the Cannes Film Festival would be a gesture against the barbarity, violence and terror of the Russian army.” The letter was signed by Volodymyr Sheiko, director general of the org.

Hazanavicius’ zombie comedy is titled “Z (Comme Z)” in France, but its international title is “Final Cut.” The film was originally slated to bow at Sundance in January before the Utah festival’s last-minute decision to move online. At Cannes, the film is currently listed in the Official Selection as “Z (Comme Z)” but Hazanavicius says the festival will only refer to the title as “Final Cut” moving forward. The festival declined to comment.

Natalie Movshovych, head of film at the Ukrainian Institute, told Variety: “Cannes remains silent on the topic. As far as I know, this reluctance is based on the position that it’s just a coincidence and it should be the director’s decision, and that ‘Final Cut’ is the international version and ‘Z’ is a French title.

“But in Russia, local media have been already using [the film’s title to their advantage], publishing articles that could be summed up as: ‘See? They are supporting us, too.’ We are asking [Cannes director] Thierry Frémaux and Michel Hazanavicius to change the title in the name of all the victims from Kyiv region, Mariupol or Kharkiv.”

Hazanavicius told Variety: “I named my film ‘Z (Comme Z)’ in France because it’s a zombie comedy and it’s inspired by what we call in France ‘series Z,’ or B movies in America. To know that this title has caused the Ukrainian people some distress makes me feel powerless and so sad, because it’s the last thing I wanted to do.

“I dedicated several years of my life to making a film called ‘The Search’ about the 1999 war between Chechnya and Russia, which showed the barbaric way in which the Russian army treated the people of Chechnya,” continued Hazanavicius. “I think I’m the only French filmmaker who made a film about this.”

However, Hazanavicius said it’s simply “too late” for the French title to be changed with just two weeks until its release in cinemas.

“The title is all over the marketing material, and also in the credits,” he said. “But we made sure to have the international title, ‘Final Cut,’ used during the Cannes Film Festival and in all the material that will be on display there. I would have changed it everywhere if I had been able to. My heart goes out to the Ukrainian people who have been suffering enough, and the last thing I want to do is to cause more pain or more discomfort.”

Russian inclusion at Cannes

The letter from the Ukraine Institute also addresses the decision to show Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov’s latest film “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” in the main competition. The film has been backed by Roman Abramovich’s $100 million private film fund Kinoprime.

Serebrennikov, the director of “Petrov’s Flu” and “Leto,” was sentenced in June 2020 to a three-year suspended prison sentence and was also issued a fine over trumped-up charges of embezzlement. A Moscow court canceled his suspended sentence last month and the filmmaker was recently allowed to leave Russia.

“There have been all these sanctions and now Cannes is showing a film made by this oligarch,” said Ukrainian producer Denis Ivanov, a frequent collaborator of Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov. In March, Ivanov issued an open letter urging for the boycott of Russian cinema, saying that “it’s not the right time for red carpets for our dear Russian colleagues.”

Ivanov says he has “nothing against Kirill Serebrennikov as an artist” but highlights his relationship to the former deputy head of the presidential administration Vladislav Surkov. The Ukrainian Institute describes Surkov as “an architect of the Russian propaganda machine, directly responsible for the barbaric invasion that is taking place in Ukraine right now.”

According to Natalie Movshovych of the institute, Ukrainian filmmakers have “mixed feelings” over next month’s Cannes Film Festival, but most of them, including Ivanov, won’t cancel their stay. Maksym Nakonechnyi’s debut drama “Butterfly Vision” will be shown in Un Certain Regard, and the Cannes Film Market recently unveiled a Ukraine in Focus program.

“My personal belief is that we should be there,” said Movshovych.

“Cannes has stated that they won’t welcome anyone linked to the Russian government, but my feeling is that they are concentrating on the form, not the content. All we are asking for is to postpone the premieres of these films until Russia leaves our country and finally takes responsibility for everything they have done and all the war crimes they have committed.”

Elsa Keslassy contributed to this story.