Critics tear into Oliver Stone’s ‘The Putin Interviews’ as documentary airs in France
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Beginning on Monday, French TV will broadcast Oliver Stone’s conversations with Vladimir Putin. In line with their American peers, parts of the French media are blasting the director for letting the Russian president voice his opinions unchallenged.
A dubbed version of the four one-hour-long segments, “The Putin Interviews”, will air at French prime time on France 3 starting on June 26. The Hollywood filmmaker met with French press in Paris on June 23 to promote his work, which was heavily criticised in the United States for giving the Russian leader such a free platform, failing to press him on East-West lock-horn issues like the Ukraine crisis and not questioning him in a more objective, journalistic manner.
The French media on Monday reacted much the same, calling the documentary both scandalous and embarrassing.
Weekly news magazine L’Obs, for example, accused Stone of “never contradicting the Kremlin chief – his hero – and giving him the room to tell multiple lies.”
It also slammed the French broadcaster France 3 for airing the series in the first place.
“Let’s be frank: it’s scandalous that a public TV channel broadcasts this type of ‘documentary’ – which is nothing else but a long, very long hagiography of the Kremlin chief and in which the ‘interviewer’ – an unconditional fan – gives him the floor without contradicting him for 200 minutes…”
‘The superstar tsar’
Daily newspaper Le Monde, whose journalist Benoît Vitkine was assured by Stone during Friday’s press luncheon in Paris that his film team never agreed on anything with Putin’s entourage in terms of either the footage filmed, the questions posed or the editing process, underscored the absence of critical thinking and pointed to factual errors floating through unchecked.
“The state of the world is discussed: Ukraine, Syria, the risks of a nuclear war… But most of all, the bitterness toward the United States and its repeated betrayals of a Russia which is only holding out its hand – from the expansion of NATO [military alliance] to Washington’s alleged support against ‘terrorists’ in the Caucasus. Vladimir Putin recites the fundamentals of Russian politics. His thoughts are known and the Russian president is not sparing in his words.
“These thoughts, however, deserve to be questioned, and the inaccuracies on which they are based, dismantled. The main weakness lies in the director’s follow-up questions” to Putin’s responses, he wrote in an article headlined “In front of Oliver Stone’s camera, Putin is the superstar tsar”.
France has a rather strained diplomatic relationship with Russia, with a host of opposing views ranging from how to de-escalate the conflict in both Ukraine and Syria. Last year, Putin even cancelled a visit to Paris after former president François Hollande announced he would only meet with him for talks on Syria.
Things between the two countries do not seem to have improved much under new French President Emmanuel Macron either.
Not only did the Russian leader appear to favour centrist Macron’s far-right rival Marine Le Pen during the presidential campaign, but Macron’s camp also alleges it was targeted by Russian hacking and disinformation efforts during the campaign. At one point, Russian state-funded Sputnik and RT news outlets were barred from Macron’s campaign events after they were accused of spreading Russian propaganda and fake news.
Putin, meanwhile, has repeatedly lashed out at Western media for spreading so-called Russophobic sentiment, especially after accusations that Russian hackers interfered also in the 2016 US elections.
Although Macron hosted Putin in Versailles last month, the two leaders were described as reaching only a wary détente after Macron admitted they had "disagreed on a number of things".
On Monday, just hours before Stone’s Putin series was due to hit French TV screens, Macron said that he, like his predecessor Hollande, will refuse to recognise Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Last week, he also agreed with other EU leaders to extend economic sanctions on Russia, saying Moscow had failed to meet its commitments on the ceasefire in Ukraine.