The celebrated Serbian director Emir Kusturica, has criticised the Cannes film festival for not selecting his movie, On the Milky Road, because “I support the Russian President, Vladimir Putin”.
Lately, “politics has more and more often interfered with the way the Cannes Film Festival works... I have suspicions that someone gave an order that my movie shouldn’t be accepted,” Kusturica told the Russian New Service.
This kind of murmur of resentment -- and that too from a Palm d’Or winner like Kusturica -- is unusual for Cannes. And Cannes, of course, has made it an abiding principle never to talk about the movies it turned down.
However, the one time a lot of people were upset with the festival was when its jury, headed by Quentin Tarantino, gave away the top prize, Palm d’Or for Best Picture, to Michael Moore’s documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 -- a ruthless critique of the George Bush administration -- in 2004. To most people this seemed like a political decision by Tarantino (and his team), who was then known to be a Bush hater. Many wondered why a documentary ought to have been given the Palm d’Or.
Kusturica admitted that he had submitted his film a day after the deadline had ended. But he averred that this slip could not have been the reason for On the Milky Road not making the cut. “Such tardiness has never been a problem before at Cannes... No one even watched my movie,” he lashed out in what is seen as a very serious charge.
Kusturica, who won the Palm d’Or in 1985 for When Father Was Away On Business, and 10 years later for Underground, has been a very vocal supporter of Putin in recent times. The Serbian auteur -- who is also a singer -- was stopped from performing with his band in Ukraine in 2015. Kusturica had while on an earlier visit to Ukraine, supported Putin’s policies.
Ukraine had been part of the former Soviet Union, but is now an independent country that has a territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula. The peninsula, which is recognised as part of Ukraine by the international community, was annexed by Russia in 2014.
This year, it was widely anticipated that Kusturica -- considered to be one of Cannes’ ‘usual suspects’ -- would get On the Milky Road into Competition or A Certain Regard. In 2005, the auteur chaired the main international jury at Cannes, and six years later, he headed the A Certain Regard jury.
On the Milky Road has Kusturica playing an important role along with the Italian screen icon, Monica Bellucci. A short note about the movie says that it focuses on three key stages in the life of a man: his experiences in a war, a romance with a woman he hopes will save him, and finally his reclusive existence as a monk reminiscing about his turbulent past.
The film will now premiere at the Bridge of Arts Festival in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don this August.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 26 years.)