Netflix big-beast thriller ‘Okja’ impresses at Cannes after boos

May 20, 2017 - 7:19 AM
Seo-Hyeon Ahn and a giant pig-like animal in 'Okja.'

CANNES, FRANCE | A technical glitch on Friday halted the screening of Netflix’s first movie to compete at the Cannes Film Festival, but “Okja”, starring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, which opened to boos, ended to hearty applause.

One of the most keenly anticipated films of the festival, because of its stellar cast and director as well as the video streaming company’s decision to give it only a limited theatrical release, opened to a packed press screening.

As the Netflix logo hit the screen, sections of the crowd booed, and the opening scene was difficult to hear due to heckling and slow handclapping – apparently due to the film being projected in the wrong aspect ratio.

The projection was stopped, the screen adjusted and the movie then restarted, with the Netflix logo again being booed, but the rest of the film played to respectful silence.

“This incident was entirely the responsibility of the Festival’s technical service, which offers its apologies to the director, his teams, the producers and the audience at the showing,” the festival said in a statement.

Directed by Korean Bong Joon-ho, known for “Snowpiercer” and “The Host”, “Okja” is the story of a little girl’s relationship to an intelligent giant pig-like animal which has, unknown to her, been bred by a U.S. biotech company to produce cheap meat.

The animal is saved, but also used, by activists from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

Director Bong Joon-ho and cast members Tilda Swinton, Seo-Hyeon Ahn, Jake Gyllenhaal pose during a photocall for their film ‘Okja’ at the 70th Cannes International Film Fesival in Cannes, France on Friday. (Photo by Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

With elements of “King Kong”, British magazine Sight and Sound said the “snazzy science fiction succeeds as both a critique of the modern meat industry and a bittersweet tale of the bond between a girl and a mighty beast”.

Gyllenhaal made light of speculation the screening glitch had been sabotage, possibly by Netflix’s opponents in the French movie industry angry at its refusal to release the film in theaters, saying: “It was the ALF I guess.”

French rules mean that movies cannot be streamed online until three years after their theatrical release, and Netflix has ruled out any such release in France – creating a controversy that has been hard to avoid at the festival.

Pedro Almodovar, the head of the jury that will award this year’s big prize, said he did not think a film not shown on the big screen should get the Palme d’Or.

Swinton, a co-producer on “Okja” who has served on the Cannes jury twice, said thousands of “the most beautiful and esoteric films” are screened at Cannes but never get seen in cinemas, and defended the U.S. company for giving the director free-rein on such a big budget film.

“Netflix have given Bong Joon-Ho the chance to make his absolutely liberated vision a reality, and for that I am so grateful.”