For months it seemed clear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was going to mark any cultural event that was held thereafter. Cannes made it clear with the announcement of the Official Section, full of Ukrainian films (in parallel sections) and also hosting dissident Russian directors. He has confirmed this with his opening gala, that he had to surrender to the new film by Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), and that he ended up surrendering to Volodímir Zelenski, the Ukrainian president who appeared by surprise at the ceremony to ask that “the great dictator ” and ask for the commitment of the world of cinema.
Ironically, the opening film has been marked by this war, unintentionally, long before Zelensky appeared at the Cannes opening. Its original title was Z, but the Ukrainian filmmakers association called for its withdrawal as this is one of the pro-Russian symbols of this conflict. The Z of the Hazanavicius film had nothing to do with the war, but with the undead that populate the film. It was a Z for zombies, but ultimately it was a Z for Zelensky, which inadvertently stole all the limelight from the movie.
Perhaps it was the best thing that could happen to the formerly called Z and now called Corten, because in the end more was said about the Ukrainian president and his emotional and cinephile speech than about a weak opening. Corten is not the film with which a festival like Cannes should open its official competition. If we add to this that it is not just any edition, but number 75, the matter becomes more complicated. That the most important auteur film competition opens with a remake —of the fun One cut of the dead— is already quite debatable. That on top of that it is with a film that was going to be at Sundance five months ago and that finally left the contest when they announced that it would be online due to covid, it continues to add points to the questionable nature of the decision.
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Those who do not know the original will really enjoy Corten, which works just like the original, although it had a freshness that managed to convey to the viewer the true spirit of the Z series and that was perfect for what it said. The brilliance of the French production does not contribute, but rather makes this story about a team that shoots a zombie movie while discovering that the zombies may not be extras, but real undead, lose part of its charm. All in an impossible sequence shot as crappy as it is fun and in which each error has a meaning that the viewer will discover in its hilarious third act.
Despite being a remake, it is convenient not to reveal the surprises of the story, because it is in its meta-cinematic turns where much of the grace of the film resides. A film that is never what it seems, but rather a matryoshka that reveals its layers as it progresses. It begins as a tribute to Z series cinema, continues as an exercise in cinema within cinema and culminates as a love letter to cinema as a common and collective act. As an art that can only be understood from the effort of the group above individual egos. A nice idea exemplified in a beautiful final scene. The problem with Hazanavicius's film is that he is dedicated to copying everything that worked in the Japanese film without making any changes. Here everything sounds more prepared, a calculated exercise to try to emulate the success of the Japanese phenomenon.
There is an idea that is in this remake that was not in the original that could have made Corten fly with his own identity. While in the original what was being shot was a movie for a zombie channel, here Hazanavicius transforms it into a request for a new platform. Platforms like zombies, like the living dead that can devour the cinema. There it would make sense for Cannes to dedicate its opening gala to the film, but the director only dares to point out that idea. One fantasizes that the red Z that appears in the film turns and becomes a red N that is so identified with a certain content platform that it currently produces based on algorithms and numbers. That dart never comes.
Corten provoked laughter and distension in the public, but the comparisons are odious, and when one thinks that last year, in an edition marked by the pandemic, the competition was opened with the magnificent Annette, one realizes that it is a minor opening . Luckily Zelensky showed up to fix it. In just five minutes it provoked much more passion than the French director's film. In fact, when the gala of this 75th edition is remembered, no one will be able to remember which film was screened, but everyone will remember that in a world at war, the president of an invaded country asked for the solidarity of the world of cinema by appealing to the Chaplin spirit.