Simon Says

The 2 Directors Missing From Cannes


Under house arrest since August last year, Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov will miss the Cannes Film Festival this week.
Alberto Pizzoli, AFP/Getty Images

Under house arrest since August last year, Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov will miss the Cannes Film Festival this week.

The Cannes Film Festival has opened with sizzle and glitz. But when you see photos snapped along the red carpet, you might want to think of two directors whose films have been nominated for the Palme d'Or award, but are a long ways away from that glamour.

Kirill S. Serebrennikov, a Russian director, is under arrest in his apartment in Moscow.

Jafar Panahi is prohibited from leaving Iran to come to Cannes.

Mr. Serebrennikov has directed a film called Leto, or Summer. It's a story of a love triangle, between a girl, a boy and a rock star, in the Leningrad of the 1980s, where Russian bands performed Soviet-sanitized covers of Dylan, The Beatles, The Clash and Velvet Underground songs, which of course just made the kids in the clubs eager for the original English lyrics.

He was shooting the movie last summer in St. Petersburg when he was arrested, driven to Moscow overnight, and confined to his apartment on charges he had stolen $2.3 million dollars from the Gogol Center, an avant-garde theater and arts complex in Moscow. Many find those charges dubious.

His production team finished the film, based on the director's notes and rehearsals, and Kirill Serebrennikov edited it, under house arrest, on his computer, and sent the film to France. It may never be seen in Russia.

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Jafar Panahi has actually been banned from making films since he was arrested in 2010, for trying to shoot to a film about Iran's disputed 2009 elections. But he's managed to keep making movies by shooting in apartments, alleys and taxicabs. In fact, his film Taxi won the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear Award in 2015, with Mr. Panahi revealing the heart of his city by playing a cabdriver who picks up a range of loquacious and interesting passengers.

His new film, Three Faces, is about an Iranian actress who receives a cry for help on video from a young girl who has to escape her family. Much of this film, too, is shot in automobiles. Iranian artists have to keep moving as they work, to evade detection by the authorities.

Iran and Russia have both had a flowering of film talent in recent years, in defiance of autocratic regimes. The battle to elude censorship often forces directors to concoct clever, camouflaged ways to tell stories about their society. That's what artists have been doing for centuries. A regime can lock them up. But it can't keep them from dreaming. Artists will find ways to tell and share their stories.

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