The Cannes press corps was already grumpy when they lined up in chaotic queues to get through extra security for the morning Cannes Palais press screening. But they got even nastier when the red Netflix logo appeared on the screen for the global streaming giant’s first Competition entry at Cannes, Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja.” (IndieWire review here.)
They booed. And booed when the name Netflix appeared again. And throughout the first seven minutes of the film’s introduction to Tilda Swinton’s corporate villain, the boos reached a crescendo, this time protesting the bad projectionist framing that cut off Tilda Swinton’s head.
The twitter reaction was immediate: were the French projectionists deliberately sabotaging the screening? Eventually the projection stopped and waited for some ten minutes before starting again. Right on cue, the assembled international press corps booed Netflix again, but then settled down for the real purpose at hand: seeing movies.
The Netflix meme is sticky here, where Cannes director Thierry Fremaux seems to not have recognized the tempest that would be stirred by booking two Netflix movies (Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” is the other) that were not going to play in theaters in France and most other countries. Going forward, he is committed to only booking films that will be seen first on the big-screen, as jury president Pedro Almodovar stated he thinks all films should be, at the opening jury press conference. (Full statement below.)
When I ran into Almodovar on the Croisette Thursday night, he was distressed that the press had interpreted his statements as anti-Netflix. He assured me that he and the jury would only look at the movies, not the logos. “There’s nothing worse than being misunderstood or poorly translated,” he said. “Not me nor any member in the jury will make any distinction between the two Netflix films and the rest of the films in competition. We’re here to judge artistically the 19 movies that the festival has selected. We have said so before, but I want it to be clear.”
Produced by Netflix content czar Ted Sarandos (who is billed ahead of Brad Pitt’s Plan B, which developed the project with Bong), “Okja” is a mixed bag of sincere anti-corporate, pro-animal and environment agit-prop, often played as broad Korean-style comedy, and a loving portrait of a heroic adolescent Korean mountain girl (An Seohyun) who will do anything for her super-pig, a great creature lovingly created by VFX master Erik De Boer, who created the tiger in “Life of Pi.” “He’s an actor like the other actors,” Bong said at the morning press conference.
Bong thanked Netflix for giving him complete freedom — and a “considerable” budget, which is reportedly between $50 and 60 million. “They never intervened,” he said. He also said the service was flexible about booking the film in some theaters in Korea and a few other countries. As for the technical glitches, he was fine with the audience seeing the opening sequence twice. “If people are open minded they can always find an agreement,” he said.
Tilda Swinton, who starred in Bong’s “Snowpiercer” and has participated on two Cannes juries, pointed out that people are seeing the film on the big screen at Cannes, and said that jury president Almodovar can say whatever he wants. “Part of the thrill of bringing a film to Cannes is for this enormous and interesting conversation to begin,” she said. “There’s room for everybody.” She added: “Thousands of films are shown in Cannes that people never see in cinemas. Netflix gave Bong Joon Ho a chance to make his liberated vision a reality, and for that I am grateful.”
Gyllenhaal asked Bong to give him a part in the movie he was concocting with Swinton, and plays television wild animal wrangler Dr. Johnny at a high pitch, as directed by Bong. “He’s the perfect candidate to bridge the two worlds, Korea and America,” Gyllenhaal told Canal Plus.
At the press conference, actors Swinton, Gyllenhaal, Steve Yeun, Lily Collins, and An
Seohyun all expressed their love of animals and the environment. An now expects to eat less meat. And Bong expressed his solidarity with activist animal rights groups like the Animal Liberation Front in the film, led by Paul Dano. “Their intention is that humankind and animals live in harmony,” he said.
“When any art can reach hundreds and thousands and millions of people,” added Gyllenhaal, “we get artistic expression in any form we can. Debate is essential always. It’s a wonderful thing to have this discussion about how art is perceived and distributed.”
Pedro Almodovar’s original translated jury statement (hat tip: Eugene Hernandez):
“Digital platforms are a new way of offering paid content, which in principle can be good and enriching. This new way shouldn’t try to suppress the already existing ones, like going to the movies. It shouldn’t alter the habits of spectators. I think this is the debate. The solution is a simple one: the new platforms should assume and accept the existing rules of the game, which involve accepting the current windows to the various exhibition formats, as well as the investment policies that currently govern in Europe. For me it would be a paradox if the winner of the Palme d’Or in Cannes, or any other award, couldn’t be seen in cinemas.”