“Joining the army with my camera would be an honor”

UN CERTAIN REGARD – On the Croisette, the director of Butterfly Vision serves as an ambassador for his country at war. He tells us about the creation of his first film, the story of the return to life of a soldier who was captured by the pro-Russian Donbass militia and raped.

Tall leg covered in tattoos, hair slicked back, Maksym Nakonechnyi cycles between photo sessions and interviews in the Ambassadors’ Lounge at the Palais des Festivals. In fact, he never set foot on the Cote d’Azur until this 31-year-old Ukrainian immediately became a kind of ambassador for his country at war. Whoever never stopped to think about this war, which began in the Donbass eight years ago, ended up making a movie about it. submitted to the United Nations in connection with certain considerations, see butterfly he is His first feature film. Maxim Naconcini traces the release and return of a soldier specializing in aerial reconnaissance in a time of “peace”, who was captured and raped by pro-Russian militias.

This eye-catching telescope between fantasy and the war crimes committed by the Russian army in Ukraine at this very moment lends the film a terrifying impact of reality. The director’s shirt shows the face of a blonde woman dressed in camouflage, with the slogan “Free Tira” crossed over it. Like Lilia, a heroine see butterflyTaira, whose real name is Yulia Bayevska, fell into the hands of the Russians. That was about two months ago, in Mariupol. Since then, this paramedic volunteer has been arrested. We know she’s alive, but we have no more news. “Wednesday evening, on the steps of the palace, the entire film crew raised a banner : “The Russians are killing Ukrainians, do you find it offensive or upsetting to talk about this genocide?”

You find yourself on a Croisette while your country is under attack. How do you feel? how are you ?
It is mysterious. I feel the weight of my responsibility as a Ukrainian filmmaker who was chosen in Cannes. I represent my country. There is also the comfort of feeling safe while the ones we love are in danger now. Somehow, I feel ashamed to be here. How can I justify my existence? I think it is by hearing you and telling everyone what is happening in Ukraine. I try to take my feelings out of the background to think only of the task I invested in myself. Coming to a city was not an easy decision.

Did you have a hard time getting out of Ukraine as a young fighting age?
It wasn’t that complicated. It is true that freedom of movement is limited at the moment, especially when it comes to leaving the country, but I applied and the Border Control Service granted me permission to leave. Provided I come back on May 31st.

“Very soon, with my fellow directors, we decided to stay in Kyiv. It was too painful to imagine escaping.”

How was your daily life when the Russians began invading Ukraine?
Soon, we and my fellow directors decided to stay in Kyiv. It was too painful to imagine escaping. We started photographing what was happening around us, the people, their daily lives and the way this war was disturbing them. Our goal is to produce an archive, to be used in a short film, a documentary, or even a joint feature film, we’ll see. For the rest, we adapt. We live in the offices of our production company, it was easier and safer. We’ve set up our own small unit of volunteers to help out as much as possible. Our production designer, with regard to technical unemployment, puts his logistical and organizational skills at the service of residents and soldiers. We distributed medicines and food to the elderly and the disabled, and to protect managers…

Do you think it is your duty as a director to document the war?
Culture shapes and represents identity. We are representatives of Ukrainian culture that is under attack. Our identity is the goal of the Russian regime and we must defend it. Do everything to strengthen it. We must speak loudly and clearly, express our positions and use our technical tools as shields.

Have you thought about enlisting in the army to fight?
Just before I left for Cannes, I was called. Once I return, I will undergo a medical examination and then they will decide whether or not I am fit to serve in the military. Even before that, I was thinking about joining the armed forces, first to help out as a director, but also to get access to other things to film. I have some friends who work as directors. If I could join the army with my camera, it would be my honor.

“I said to myself: At least the movie will survive.”

When did you get the idea for the story of this Ukrainian fighter who was captured, raped and then released by the Russians?
In 2014, when Russia attacked the Donbas River, some filmmakers made films about the war. Including a collective documentary film entitled Invisible Battalion Which I edited in 2017. It was a few short pictures of female soldiers and female warriors. I was very moved by their stories and experiences. One of the girls said: What awaits the female soldier when she is captured is worse than death. I began to think about the position of the fighters, about this combination of strength and weakness at the front. This inspired Lilia’s story. I asked Irina Celik, one of the directors of this documentary, to co-write my film. She helped me make the movie believable. I am very grateful to him.

When did you realize that the movie would surpass reality?
I finished it at the end of February, the day before the Russian invasion. Everything was ready to edit the final version. When the first rocket landed, I made sure the Swiss studio in charge of mastering was ready to process the film and sent everything in there: pictures, sound, subtitles, everything. It was a huge relief because at this point the situation was completely confused, we didn’t know what lay ahead. I said to myself: At least the movie will survive.

Your heroine is a victim of rape, torture that the Russians are currently using as a weapon of war against the civilian population…
Yes, not only against girls and women but also against children and men. By doing research and drawing on the documentary that inspired me, I’ve come to realize that the way women position themselves in war is more inclusive, brave, and constructive than men. Even when they are fighting the enemy, they already have a head start by engaging in the peacebuilding process. They are fighting the conflict from only one perspective: restoring peace. Even their survival method is more efficient and sustainable than ours.

I am convinced that they can share this resilience with others, and that the community will benefit from hearing their stories and perspectives. The most impressive of all the stories I’ve heard of the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers is not the horror per se but the way people, especially women, eventually recover. Lilia, who has suffered a very deep trauma and was able to overcome it by regaining control of her life, is like the moral compass of Ukrainians traumatized by the war.

“The war we are fighting is first and foremost a war of meaning and stories.”

For example, you show the fact that Western Europe is going through somewhat silently, for fear of becoming a partner in Russian propaganda: the xenophobia of some former Ukrainian soldiers or militia members …
It was not so much about judging – although I am against these illegal and racist acts – as it was about trying to understand why some have taken this destructive path of harm to others or oneself. Veterans have returned from the front with a somewhat binary view of things, good versus evil, and were at times unwelcome and marginalized. They searched for enemies, invented civil missions. It is their individual responsibility but it is also our collective responsibility. As for the Russian propaganda that gets us through the Nazis, I mention that the far-right parties in Ukraine collect 2 or 3% of the vote. For them, Marine Le Pen’s career in French polls is an absolute fantasy…

What do you think about the presence of Russian Kirill Serebrenkov in Cannes with his latest film in competition? Some of your countrymen questioned his position as an opponent…
I don’t want to be too direct or aggressive, but it does make me think of the legend of the Lernaean hydra that Hercules fought against. Each time his head was cut off, two more would grow in its place. The war we are fighting is above all a war of meaning and stories. Novels can wear different masks. Russian citizens who oppose the Putin regime are subjected to incredible pressure, are not given the opportunity to continue practicing their art and are sometimes separated from their art. Others are seen as dissidents, but somehow they have maintained their platform and found a way to continue speaking out and funding and promoting their business.

As soon as they open their mouths, their message helps to give preference to the Russian system. Not in a direct or obvious way, but in a more covert and insidious way. For example by expressing sympathy with the families of Russian war criminals. Before formulating this sympathy, it is probably best to wait for the criminals involved to be tried. The first was held in the last days [Un soldat russe, Vadim Chichimarine, vient d’être condamné à la prison à vie pour avoir abattu un civil ukrainien, ndrl].

Leave a Comment