Cannes film festival: ‘Okja’ wins over press despite screening snafu, Netflix controversy

Okja”screened for the first time at the Cannes film festival on Friday. After a delay due to a snafu that saw it screen in the wrong ratio, early reaction says that Netflix has a winner with this new fantasy film by Koren filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer”). This gripping tale tells the story of a young girl (Ahn Seo-hyun), who fights to stop a powerful company from killing her friend, a giant creature named Okja. The director recruited Oscar winner Tilda Swinton, his leading lady from “Snowpiercer,” to play the craven company CEO who pursues this “super pig” to solve the world’s hunger crisis.

While Joon-ho is a respected movie maker, the decision by the festival to allow “Okja” to compete for the Palme d’Or has been clouded in controversy. It will premiere exclusively on Netflix on June 28, bypassing a traditional theatrical release. In response to the outcry, organizers ruled that future editions of the festival will only allow films with French theatrical runs to contend.

Based on the first reviews, “Okja” could well win over the jury at Cannes. Among those praising the film were the following:

Peter Debruge (Variety): “Shot in bright, cinematic widescreen by DP Darius Khondji, this Netflix-produced feature belongs on the big screen, where no one would mistake Okja for a real animal, and yet the CG is convincing enough to suspend disbelief. Bong has chosen to make Okja a larger-than-life animal, but she could just as easily be a talking pig (there’s plenty of ‘Babe’ DNA here already) — the key is that his audience be able to recognize her soul.”

Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian): “There is something inspired in the way the director handles the contrast between the bucolic paradise in which Mija and Okja have grown up together and the alien jungle of the big city. The narrative dynamic is comparable to King Kong in its way; but less adult and less obviously knowing. The scenes at the beginning where Mija loses her footing and Okja instinctively improvises a rescue are tremendously conceived. And the digital creation of Okja is itself brought off with terrific skill. The pure energy and likability of this film make it such a pleasure.”

Stephen Dalton (THR): “Combining puppetry, hydraulics and CG visuals, Bong fleshed out his voluptuous leading lady with help from conceptual artist Hee Chul Jang, who also designed the monster in ‘The Host,’ plus visual effects supervisor Erik-Jan De Boer, who won an Academy Award for creating the tiger in Ang Lee‘s ‘Life of Pi.’ Tender scenes in which Okja and Mija sleep alongside each other, and fight to save each other from a dramatic cliff fall, are superlative marriages of digital and live-action.

Steve Pond (The Wrap): “Part kid flick, part slapstick adventure comedy, part animal-rights diatribe, it is as playful, uncontainable and messy as its main character, a giant pig who is by turns charming, unruly and touching.

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In addition to “Okja” and “Snowpiercer,” Bong is also known for another monster movie, “The Host” (2006), as well as the award-winning crime film “Mother” (2009). Are you excited for the new film? Watch the trailer above, and discuss this and more in our forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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