Michel Hazanavicius Defends 'The Most Precious of Cargoes' at Cannes Festival

Animated feature sparks debate on historical representation at Cannes

by Zain ul Abedin
Michel Hazanavicius Defends 'The Most Precious of Cargoes' at Cannes Festival
© Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Renowned director Michel Hazanavicius passionately defended his decision to use animation for his latest Holocaust-themed film, "The Most Precious of Cargoes," during its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Adapted from Jean-Claude Grumberg’s novel, the film presents a poignant narrative centered on a poor woodcutter and his wife struggling amidst war, who find hope upon rescuing a baby girl thrown from a passing train.

Hazanavicius, an Oscar winner for "The Artist," expressed that the choice of animation over a live-action portrayal was clear from the beginning. “I would never want to make a live film on this,” he stated, emphasizing the suitability of animation to handle such a delicate subject with the necessary dignity and respect.

The film has stirred some controversy, with certain critics challenging its approach to depicting traumatic events. A review from Screen Daily criticized a particular sequence for its stylized portrayal of the Auschwitz victims, arguing that it could be seen as overly manipulative.

This highlights an ongoing debate in cinematic representations of the Holocaust about the balance between artistic expression and ethical responsibility.

Animation Over Actuality

Despite the criticisms, Hazanavicius argued that animation allows a depiction of harsh realities without requiring actors to relive the traumas portrayed.

“You don’t have to ask people to pretend that they are going to die,” he explained, adding that this method helps address the challenges of representing historical atrocities. The director credited Grumberg’s profound influence over the project, describing him as a "fantastic guide" whose insights were invaluable in the film’s development.

Their collaboration aimed to honor the material’s depth while navigating the complexities of Holocaust representation. "The Most Precious of Cargoes" was met with significant acclaim at its debut, receiving a ten-minute standing ovation, which speaks to its impact despite the controversies.

The voice cast features notable talents including the late Jean-Louis Trintignant, Grégory Gadebois, Dominique Blanc, and Denis Podalydès, whose performances contribute deeply to the film’s emotional resonance.