Do we really have to ban every Z now?
Cannes has renamed its opening film under pressure from Ukraine. It is no longer called “Z (Comme Z)” but “Coupez” because Russia uses “Z” as a victory sign. But the decision was wrong.
meSomething strange happened to the opening film of the festival in Cannes. No, it was not replaced in a short time. Viewers can continue to shiver with delight with the new zombie comedy from Michel Hazanavicius, winner of the 2012 Academy Award for The Artist.
It wasn’t the movie that was exchanged, but its title. When the show was announced it was still called “Z (Comme Z)”, it’s now called “Coupez!”. This is what the directors in France say when a scene was shot, and Hazanavicius’ work was set in the world of cinema.
Address exchange is not voluntary. It’s about Ukraine’s war – and Ukraine’s demands on the festival. First of all, it concerns the fact that the letter “Z” (which does not even exist in Cyrillic) has become the symbol of Russian propaganda for the war in Ukraine.
Russian tanks roam the occupied territories marked with the letter “Z”, Putin supporters wear “Z” berets and “Z” flags flutter over Russian civilian buildings. It is believed that “Z” means “Za pobedu” (“for victory”) battle cry.
The head of the Ukrainian Institute of Kyiv (a kind of Goethe-Institut) now sent a message to the festival: “A change of address would be a gesture against the barbarism, violence and terror of the Russian army,” he stated. And the director of the film department of the institute followed suit: in Russia, they already took advantage of the title according to the motto: look here, he was also supporting us.
This is not the only criticism of the festival from Ukraine. For example, he was also directed against the fact that the Russian director Kirill Serebnikov was invited to compete with his new film “Tchaikovsky’s Wife”.
Serebrennikov has been persecuted in Russia for years. He was only placed under house arrest for three years due to trumped-up allegations that he embezzled funds for his Moscow theater. Two years ago he was given a three-year suspended prison sentence.
His passport was confiscated for a long time, but he was allowed to shoot in Moscow, and so the “Tchaikovsky’s wife” came into being. Part of the funding for the film came from the special film fund of the oligarch Roman Abramovich. This is where the criticisms of Ukrainian filmmakers come into play, as well as Serebrenkov’s relationship with Vladislav Surkov, a former advisor and chief of staff to Vladimir Putin. However, it is now said that Surkov is under house arrest.
So the situation is more complicated than you think the friend/foe pattern of the past few weeks. Cannes said it would not receive any delegations linked to the Russian government. This is not enough for many filmmakers from Ukraine, who are pushing for a complete boycott of Russian films, including films by dissident artists like Serebrennikov.
This was rejected by the festival, which is why a boycott of Cannes is being discussed again in Ukraine, but as it is currently, three weeks before the festival, this will likely not happen. After all, Kahn made the sacrifice of the film’s changed title pawn, which is no small feat, as the entire marketing campaign had to be altered for Hazanavicius, which will hit French cinemas in May.
It is a matter of suitability. We are not only in a real war, but also in a propaganda war. Russian forces sabotage evidence of Ukrainian culture, and Ukraine discredit everything related to Russian culture. This is self-defense, this is legitimate.
But this does not mean that the West has to go along with this symbolic policy in every case. There is a vast difference between a French zombie comedy with a “Z” in the title and an endorsement of the War of Aggression, and everyone in western Kaliningrad knows it. In France the name of B-class films is “Série Z” Should the French stop using it? Should Zoro Soro be renamed and the Costa-Gavras classic “Z” removed from the archive?
The film Javras is set against the backdrop of the Greek military dictatorship. In Greek, the word “Z” means “he lives” and is a symbol of the resistance against fascism. This is Z. We must claim it with confidence to ourselves.