Netflix came crashing into Cannes on Friday morning, under a cloud of controversy and debate, with the premiere of its first in-competition feature, “Okja,” a special effects epic directed by Bong Joon-ho about a girl who tries to save her giant pet pig from an enigmatic corporation.
The acclaimed Korean filmmaker responded with humor to a technical glitch, which forced the film festival to restart “Okja” at a screening for journalists. “What happened this morning, I’m happy about it,” Bong said at a press conference with his cast. “You guys can watch the opening sequence twice.”
Tilda Swinton (who plays a evil CEO in the film) defended Netflix’s presence in the South of France, after distributors have protested celebrating movies that are will debut on the streaming service instead of theaters. “The truth is, we didn’t actually come here for prizes,” Swinton said. “We came here to show the film to the Cannes Film Festival. We get the wonderful opportunity and privilege to screen our film on that screen.”
Added Jake Gyllenhaal: “It’s truly a blessing when art can reach one person … particularly in today’s age, when we are inundated with information, sometimes true, sometimes not, that we can get the artistic expression in whatever form we can.”
Gyllenhaal then offered a quick aside about the recent news out of Washington D.C. “I’m very excited about the appointment of Robert Mueller,” he said about the special prosecutor who will investigate Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia.
It’s been a political Cannes for other reasons. On Wednesday, Cannes jury president Pedro Almodovar had said he couldn’t imagine giving the Palme d’Or to a movie that wouldn’t eventually premiere on the big screen. But that declaration didn’t seem to bother Bong, who made “Snowpiercer.”
“I’m just happy he will watch this movie tonight,” Bong said. “He can say anything—I’m fine.” He spoke highly of collaborating with the streaming service. “I loved working with Netflix,” he said. “They gave me great support — the budget for this film is considerable. Giving such a budget to a director isn’t very common.”
Gyllenhaal said he was such a fan of Bong, that he expressed interest in the role before even reading the script — based on the description of the pig. His character, a TV host, projects a high-pitched voice. “You should hear me in the morning,” Gyllenhaal said. The timbre was inspired by instructions from his director. “He drew me a picture of the top end of the guitar. He said, ‘That’s where his voice is.’ It was left up to my interpretation.”
“Okja” is drawing parallels to “E.T.,” “Babe” and other adventures with four-legged friends. “I still live outnumbered by animals,” Swinton said. “Some of them are human.”