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Michel Hazanavicius Renames Cannes Opener ‘Z’ Due to Similarity to Russian Hate Symbol

The letter "Z" is often used as a symbol of support for Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Michel Hazanavicius arriving at the 46th Cesar Film Awards 2021 ceremony at l'Olympia in Paris, on the 12th of march 2021, FRANCE (Sipa via AP Images)

Michel Hazanavicius

AP Images

Updated, April 25: Following outcry from the Ukrainian Film Institute over the title’s similarity to a Russian hate symbol, Michel Hazanavicius has renamed his Cannes opening night film. Formerly titled “Z,” it will now be called “Coupé” in France. Internationally, the zombie comedy is known as “Final Cut.”

“The title was perhaps funny when [I] completed the film several months ago but it isn’t at all today and I can’t bear it,” Hazanavicius said in a statement (via Variety). “My film is meant to bring joy and I wouldn’t want it to be associated in any shape or form to this war. I’m therefore happy to change its title, and through this modest gesture show my full support to the Ukrainian people.”

Earlier, April 22: Since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in February, the world’s top film festivals have faced difficult questions about how to stand with the European nation. Early debates about banning Russian films were largely dismissed as misguided attempts to punish artists who did not support the war, and most festivals are continuing to work with Russian filmmakers. However, organizers of the Cannes Film Festival are now faced with another Russian problem from an unexpected source: a zombie movie.

“Z,” a new film from Michel Hazanavicius, is currently scheduled to open the festival out of competition. The film is a remake of the 2017 Japanese zombie comedy “One Cut of the Dead,” and stars Romain Duris and Berenice Bejo. The highly anticipated film from the director of “The Artist” was originally scheduled to premiere at Sundance but moved to Cannes after the Park City festival switched to a virtual format. However, it is now attracting unwanted attention due to the fact that it shares its name with a Russian hate symbol.

The letter “Z” currently appears on many Russian military vehicles, used by the Russian army to distinguish its troops from the Ukrainians. Since the war began, the symbol has taken on a larger meaning in Russian and European culture, with citizens using it to signal their support for the invasion. Some media figures colloquially refer to the symbol as a “zwastika,” as it has come to signify the same kind of ethnonationalism as the Nazi swastika. Ukraine’s parliamentary body, the Verkhovna Rada, has banned the symbol in Ukraine along with the letter “V,” which serves a similar purpose.

While the title of Hazanavicius’ film is obviously a reference to zombies, Ukrainians have taken offense to the idea of a hate symbol occupying such a prominent spot at the film festival. In a letter to Cannes (via Variety), the Ukrainian Film Institute wrote that “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.”

Renaming the film is an easy fix for Hazanavicius and Cannes, as the movie is already scheduled to be released internationally under the title “Final Cut.”

In a statement to Variety, Hazanavicius said that “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.”

While the filmmaker lamented that it is “too late” to change the film’s title in France, he plans to use the international title of “Final Cut” on all marketing materials at Cannes.

“My heart goes out to the Ukrainian people who have been suffering enough,” Hazanavicius said. “And the last thing I want to do is to cause more pain or more discomfort.”

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