With drama aplenty, Netflix and ‘Okja’ debut in Cannes
CANNES, France — Netflix’s entry into the Cannes Film Festival produced new drama Friday as the first screening of its film “Okja” was met with boos for Netflix and a technical glitch that prompted the festival to restart the film and apologize to the audience.
At the end of all the commotion, largely glowing reviews surfaced for director Boon Joon-ho’s political fantasy about a girl and her genetically modified giant pig.
The premiere of the South Korean director’s latest film, featuring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, was a heated affair to begin with. It’s the first of two Netflix films in Cannes’ top Palme d’Or competition to premiere this year, selections that prompted protests from French distributors and led Cannes to rule out, beginning next year, streaming-only films.
Some members of the international press at Friday’s screening booed the Netflix logo that preceded the film. But that wasn’t the end to the raucousness.
The projection that followed was in the wrong aspect ratio, throwing off the framing. While the film played, the packed theater hissed and clapped until the screening was stopped. After about a 10-minute wait, “Okja” was restarted — and the Netflix logo was booed all over again.
The festival quickly issued an apology, promising that the error was technical and not anti-Netflix sabotage.
“This incident was entirely the responsibility of the festival’s technical service, which offers its apologies to the director and his team, to the producers and the audience,” said the festival.
Bong, the acclaimed director of “Snowpiercer” and “The Host,” was light-hearted about the snafu.
“What happened this morning, I’m quite happy with it because it forces you people to watch the opening sequence twice,” he said, laughing. “There is so (much) information and story elements there. So very educational. I love it.”
“Okja” will hit Netflix and play theatrically in many countries on June 28. It’s about a girl named Mija who has raised a massive pig named Okja who was created by a large corporation (one run by twin sisters played by Swinton). Ten years later, the company is reclaiming the animal to help sell its new line of genetically modified food.
Critics mostly applauded its melding of Spielbergian fantasy and more darkly political themes about food production and capitalism.
On Friday, Bong and his cast defended the film’s digital distributor. Swinton called the hubbub in Cannes over Netflix the start of “an enormous and really interesting conversation” and declared “there’s room for everybody” in Cannes.
“Let’s be honest, there are thousands of films that are screened in the Cannes Film Festival that people don’t see in the cinema — the most beautiful, the most esoteric films that people never see in the cinema,” said Swinton. “Netflix has given Bong Jong-ho the chance to make his absolutely liberated vision a reality, and for that I’m so grateful.”
On Wednesday, Cannes jury president Pedro Almodovar appeared to rule out “Okja” and the other Netflix entry in competition for the Palme d’Or, Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories,” saying he didn’t think a film not playing in theaters should win the coveted Palme d’Or.
Swinton, a former Cannes juror, responded, “The truth is, we didn’t come here for prizes. We came here to show this film to the Cannes Film Festival.”
Bong, a deep admirer of Almodovar, was less slighted.
“I’m just very happy he will watch this movie,” the director said, chuckling. “He can say anything. I’m fine with it.”