Netflix might have had a spotty day in Cannes, what with a technically challenged early-morning press screening for its first Cannes Film Festival contender Okja, as well as some trade and newspaper headlines that quite frankly misrepresented that incident. But Friday evening’s Okja gala at the Grand Lumiere Theatre of the Palais went off without a hitch and, most important, there was no booing.
The movie from revered South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) tells the story of a young girl and her lovable enormous “super pig” Okja — who, it turns out, was genetically engineered and then sent to a contest winner in South Korea for 10 years in order to be prepped for the perfect bacon sandwich. If not for the several uses of “f*ck” and a particularly gruesome climax set in a slaughterhouse, this delightful and fun film would be prime family entertainment for the streamer, which plans to open it in a handful of theaters in select U.S. cities and other countries, along with a big South Korea theatrical break, before debuting June 28 on Netflix. Even with those scenes, I think it still has great kid appeal. This director is a genius, and the movie rocks, especially if you are already a fan like I am.
Tilda Swinton stars in a dual role as the Cruella De Vil-type villainous head of a corporation hellbent on turning these specially bred pigs into fine food. She is in great form, as is the rest of the cast in this beautifully made bigger-than-life movie that cries out to be seen on a big screen but will be viewed by most on one of their devices or TV sets. At the film’s private afterparty at the Netflix Hub, right next to the Carlton Hotel, Swinton minced no words in her support of the beleaguered streamer, which has been fighting French cinema purist backlash over its inclusion in this year’s fest with Okja as well as Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories. The latter premieres Sunday here and will also soon be playing day-and-date in select theaters with Netflix.
“Look, no one else wanted to make this and Netflix came to the rescue,” Swinton said. “These people really do love movies and the whole process of making them.” She also praised David Michod, who helmed another Netflix movie, the May 26-premiering War Machine with Brad Pitt, in which she appears however briefly.
Of course she loves Okja director Bong, also having delivered a brilliant performance in his Snowpiercer, which didn’t get the kind of release it deserved from the now-defunct Radius division of The Weinstein Company. It is no wonder she embraces deep-pocketed streamers like Netflix and Amazon (for whom she currently is shooting Suspiria). Also she was furious with some highly misleading sensational headlines all over the net Friday after a brief technical snafu at the start of the 8:30 AM press screening of Okja that misled people into believing the film — rather than the fact it was really the projectionist — being booed by audience members (largely French accents) upset that the movie was mistakenly being shown in the wrong aspect ratio during opening credits that heavily feature Swinton.
“Netflix’s ‘Okja’ booed in first press screening in Cannes,” blasted one Hollywood trade. “Netflix big-beast thriller Okja impresses in Cannes after boos,” wrote Reuters. Swinton was upset that the truth of the matter was being obscured by outlets going for an easy hit by intimating the film itself was the subject of boos. It never was, and in fact got fairly warm applause afterward from the often coldhearted critics. To quote a certain president, this was an example of “fake news.”
It is true that the best way to get instant publicity in Cannes these days is to get booed at your press screening. It happened famously to Gus Van Sant’s The Sea Of Trees in 2014, and that film never recovered; despite its star power, it didn’t get a theatrical release (instead going to DirecTV and DVD). It wasn’t booed at all in its official screening, only at the press showing. Booing movies seems to be something of a not-very-attractive French custom, at least based on my observations in recent years. But even though the movies almost never are booed in their official red carpet premieres here (the audience always is polite in the presence of the filmmakers), if a film gets booed in its press screening, that becomes the screaming headline out of Cannes and not whatever happens — or, more accurately, doesn’t happen — later at its gala. If this behavior continues, the festival might be wise to switch the order and let press see the movies after their official premiere instead of having to deal with depressed or unhappy filmmakers and stars who have possibly spent the day being battered in headlines.
The Okja incident is just another example of a movie getting unfair treatment, and certainly not the full Cannes experience it was expecting to receive at this granddaddy of all film festivals.
By the way, wouldn’t you think so-called critics, of all people, would be polite enough to stay to the end of credits? Many don’t even wait for credits to start but just get up when they feel the movie is ending. At the morning screening I attended, I would say conservatively that there were maybe about 10 people left in the enormous Grand Lumiere Theatre at the end of credits when a long extended bonus scene involving Okja co-star Paul Dano and several others began playing. Hey, critics, if you want to see that scene you missed, maybe you ought to check it out on Netflix next month.
Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos also was at the premiere, and I caught up with him at the afterparty, where he was extremely happy with the enthusiastic response to the movie and early reviews. He confirmed he is a candidate for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors Executives branch. He was invited into the Academy in 2015. He told me that after the party he was going to be voting. Ballots for the first round, in which each of the 17 branches chooses four candidates to run, are due Saturday. He actually also has a separate Produced By credit on Okja.