Sean Penn a filmmaker in love with himself and President

Sean Penn, a filmmaker in love with himself and President Zelenski

“The Ukrainians are the Beatles of our time.” Behind this statement, Sean Penn hides an entire manifesto illustrated by Superpower, the documentary he co-directed with Aaron Kaufman about Ukraine, the Russian invasion of that country and, most importantly, his love for Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President. “It’s amazing how a group from Liverpool managed to speak to the emotions of all of humanity. Today the same thing is happening with the Ukrainians who are the Beatles of our time,” he told the press this morning, no doubt as if on screen. Because with the film, which was presented by the Berlinale as “the most important film of this edition”, Penn is not uncertain, just as with the explanation of his live work: “It seems clear to me that war propaganda is different from this film, which shows the unity of the Ukrainian shows I don’t think it’s a hagiographic film because we’re dedicated to truth and defending Ukrainian freedom, but I don’t mind being labeled as propaganda if it helps the public know what is going.”

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Superpower was born in 2019 when producer Billy Smith, who knew Penn, asked him if he would like to be part of a documentary about Zelenski. The answer was a resounding yes, as the actor was already conducting his own investigation: who was this actor who had become the great hope of a corruption-ridden nation? Also, the title comes from one of the episodes of the Diener des Volk series, in which Zelenski played a schoolteacher who ends up in charge of his country, a television satire eventually swallowed up by reality. In this chapter, the protagonist tells his son where he draws his strength from, a dialogue that will ultimately find its echo in the authentic inaugural speech of the political Zelensky.

During the lockdown, the filmmaker and the President met and communicated via Zoom, which is why Penn and his team were in the capital the week before the invasion, filming and interviewing all sorts of experts to find answers about where to go . There was Ukraine, which emerged from the Euromaidan revolt in December 2013. On February 23, 2022, with the cameras off, Penn finally meets Zelenskyy face-to-face; The next day, Russia invades the country, bombs the outskirts of Kiev, and the Americans, after hours of waiting, interview the president of a nation at war on cameras.

Sean Penn and Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet on the evening of February 24, 2022, at the start of the Russian invasion, as seen in Sean Penn and Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet on the evening of February 24, 2022, at the start of the Russian invasion, as seen in “Superpower.”

The documentary’s review in The Hollywood Reporter reads: “After two hours of footage, one might mistakenly believe that Penn plays a fundamental role in the war, given his constant on-screen presence.” In one of those grating screen glitches, the Penn team’s decision to move from the Hyatt Regency to the Intercontinental is told with unrealistic suspense as the invasion begins. So from one luxury hotel to another. Which isn’t to say that the actor, as the publication claims, is wrong in his anti-invasion war aim, or that he hasn’t risked traveling to Kiev up to three times in those 12 months. But in the credits, up to seven cameramen appear who only focus on him.

No interest in Putin

Because on screen, Penn rules. He appears in all sorts of settings, he can only be seen in archive images, in aerial photos filmed with a drone in Kiev, and at a time when he himself uses his cell phone to show the crater of a Russian missile that destroys a block of flats has. The rest of the footage is just Penn at points, Penn expressing his frustration at what he sees as a lack of US support for an invaded Ukraine, and Penn listening to the people. The documentary is credited with the grand entrance of experts who break down where Ukraine comes from, a young nation corrupted by oligarchs, where Zelensky comes from and the suspicion he himself inspires among his voters if he is elected president and how little by little he builds his presidential image, which also inflates some Russian messages: If Ukraine is a Nazi-ruled nation, as Russian President Vladimir Putin claims, then why is their President a Jewish comedian with many businesses in Russia and its native language Russian? ?

Selenskyj during his performance on Thursday evening at the Berlinale opening ceremony.  Back, center, Sean Penn.Zelenskyy during his performance on Thursday evening at the Berlinale opening ceremony. Back, center, Sean Penn. CLEMENS BILAN (EFE)

The actor worries about what will happen in the future. “Actually, the issue here is not so much whether Ukraine loses the war, which is not going to happen. But… if Russia wins, we’re all screwed, screwed.” According to Penn, “we were never interested in associating what was being told with a Russian vision.” And he continued: “I won’t make a film on the site where we can’t work with transparency. Superpower is not an equal spacing film because this is not an ambiguous war. I have no interest in speaking to Putin.” He defined the president bluntly: “I don’t like how a creepy child threatens humanity.” Instead, he liked to go to the front, to the Donbass, where he came within 150 meters of the Russian army. “Being there was sitting in the company of people, of heroes. Anytime I get a chance to be with heroes, I’ll go.” In his Sacrifice for Ukraine, Penn even visited the studios of the far-right Fox News, where he had long been branded an “enemy of the state.” He is himself clear about this: “In the face of many problems, community is the answer. This is how Ukrainians reacted and this is how they take care of themselves. When you grow up in the USA, they think that you are an extraordinary guy, but we lose that spirit of community, of collective caring. On the front lines, soldiers do what they do out of love for their country and to care for their people. The lesson is clear.”

Zelensky and Penn in Zelensky and Penn in “Superpower”.

Penn has asked for the delivery of artillery, long-range missiles and all kinds of weapons to Ukraine up to five times at a press conference: “We need the greatest possible use of humanitarian aid to support the Ukrainians with weapons, because they are fighting a war in which they were mugged. From his relationship with Zelenski, whom he describes on screen as a “pure soul”, they now consider each other comrades. The Oscar Penn won as an actor with Mystic River is now in the presidency. “It’s just a small symbolic gesture between two friends. He showed me his courage and that of all Ukrainians. Life is fragile, we must fight to preserve it”. And with the motto (KillerTacos) on the cap he wore, he only allowed himself a laugh, steamer in hand, during his performance: “It’s from a restaurant where they serve the best tacos in the world.”

Penn returned to Kiev last week to show the President the film. He will continue to support her: “I will do it in person or through Core, the humanitarian organization I run. But I will never get into politics because I don’t have duplicity, just one face. Is”.

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