Zelensky Invokes ‘The Great Dictator’ in Cannes Speech: ‘The World Needs a New Chaplin’

"I’m sure that the dictator will lose. We will win this war. Glory to Ukraine," Zelensky said via video call at Cannes' opening night.
President Zelensky at 2022 Cannes
President Zelensky at 2022 Cannes

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky made a special appearance during Cannes’ opening night.

Zelensky gave an impassioned speech about the responsibility of filmmaking in the midst of war via a live video call from Kyiv. Zelensky, who was a satirical actor and the voice of “Paddington” before being elected president, cited Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” among films necessary to reflect the contradictions of warfare.

“The most brutal dictators of the 20th century loved cinema,” Zelensky said during his address, adding that most films made about those dictators were “horrific documentaries and newsreels.”

“On February 24, Russia began a war of huge proportion against Ukraine with the intention of going further into Europe… Hundreds of people die every day. They are not going to get up after the end,” Zelensky said. “Will cinema stay silent, or will it talk about it? If there is a dictator, if there is a war for freedom, again, it all depends on our unity. Can cinema stay out of this unity? We need a new [Charlie] Chaplin who will prove that, in our time, cinema is not silent.”

Zelensky continued, “It’s necessary for cinema not to be silent…I say to everyone who hears me: Do not despair. Hatred will eventually disappear and dictators will die. We have to win this victory and we need cinema to ensure that this end is always on the side of freedom.”

Without naming Putin specifically, Zelensky concluded, “I’m sure that the dictator will lose. We will win this war. Glory to Ukraine.”

When asked by IndieWire after the speech how Cannes managed to bring Zelensky on board the festival, Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux said, “We are Cannes.”

Zelensky previously addressed the 2022 Grammys attendees last month but did not appear remotely at the 94th Academy Awards despite co-host Amy Schumer and Sean Penn campaigning for Zelensky to be invited.

“We are more independent,” Frémaux said, regarding the Academy declining to bring Zelensky into the Oscars. “And you know, we did not know what he was going to say. It was not possible. We made some suggestions to his people. In a way, what he said was an encouragement for the 12-day festival.

Frémaux applauded the speech, adding, “He never mentioned Putin. That was good. It was a way to say, ‘This is one situation, but there are others with the same problem.’

The address was part of a new deal to show the ceremony on French public TV. The speech was broadcast in all French-speaking territories.

The 2022 Cannes Opening Night film was Michel Hazanavicius’s French-language zombie comedy “Coupéz.”

Eric Kohn contributed reporting.

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