Cannes: 'The Artist' Director Talks Russia, Annette Bening and Stanley Kubrick

"The Search"

Oscar winner Michel Hazanavicius and wife Berenice Bejo discuss their competition title "The Search" about the Chechnya conflict, the role of the U.N. and what political messages they want to send.

CANNES -- Oscar winner Michel Hazanavicius on Wednesday‎ discussed his Cannes festival competition entry The Search, how political the film about the Chechnya conflict is and working with Annette Bening on his follow-up to The Artist. 

He was joined by wife Berenice Bejo -- who stars in the film -- along with producer Thomas Langmann and some of the other actors.

The Search debuts in Cannes on Wednesday and has been eagerly awaited given its cast and director. A press screening in the morning drew some boos though. Bejo won the best actress award in Cannes last year for The Past.

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Bening wasn't at the press conference. "I liked the idea that a Hollywood actress adds great substance to the film through her presence," Hazanavicius said when asked about working with her. "Annette Bening is a wonderful actress. She is strong-willed like her character."

"The desire to make this film springs from different sources," Hazanavicius told the press pack when asked about his motivation. "I wanted to tell this story that few people have told. People tend to forget these very topical issues."

While The Artist was a very different movie, the director said The Search echoes some themes in that tells the story of the destiny and change of a person, in the case of the new film that of a soldier. 

Did he feel more pressure working on The Search after the big awards success of The Artist? "I fear some pressure today perhaps, but up until now, things have been fine," he said.

"I made a film that didn't conform to the standards of the market at all" and had big success, he said. "I had the impression I could make pretty much whatever I wanted to do. …This film is totally different."

Asked about how political a message he wanted to send, Hazanavicius said: "The film is indeed a political one, but I tried to focus on the human side, the emotional side of war, and not to take sides." But he did say that international organizations like the EU and UN are like "a machine created to ensure peace that unfortunately fails too often."

Bejo was also asked what message she wanted to send with the film. "It's always tricky when you make this kind of film," she said. "I'm an actress. I'm proud to be in a film that is about a recent international conflict. But I don't have a specific message or lesson to give people."

She added: "My character is like a spectator and not a heroine in the beginning. Gradually, she realizes you can't show up in a country and just save it. …She turns into a heroine because she realizes you need to focus on a smaller scale to make a difference."

What message did Hazanavicius want to send about the Russian army? "From what I have read … the Russian army is an incredible machine. It has a modus operandi that is very harsh and violent. I have read books by journalists, people who were there and Russian soldiers. I invented some scenes, but I don't think I betrayed reality. … In Chechnya, the Russian army massacred many people. That's a historical fact."

Asked about the situation between Russia and the Ukraine and what he wants people there to take away from the film, Langmann said: "If they get a chance to see it. I wish they get to see it."

Added Hazanavicius: "Not everyone shares the same views in Ukraine. I hope some will be moved."

Asked about parallels between The Search and Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, he said: "Of course I thought about Full Metal Jacket, but I avoided seeing it again. I tried to make a film that is organized differently. … But obviously, I wouldn't try to compare myself to Kubrick."

Twitter: @georgszalai