There was high drama in the Grand Theatre Lumiere this morning, as the festival began its screening of Okja in the wrong aspect ratio, with the top third of the screen cut off. The audience launched into a display of histrionics reminiscent of a prison riot, which forced the festival into restarting the film with the correct technical set-up. When asked about this, Jake Gyllenhaal joked “It was the ALF!”, referring to the Animal Liberation Front featured in the film. Director Bong Joon Ho, meanwhile, commented that “What happened this morning, I’m happy about it. You guys got to watch the opening sequence twice!”.
Okja is one of two films that Netflix has brought to the festival, a move that has prompted a firestorm of controversy – particularly when jury president Pedro Almodovar implied that these films would not be eligible for the Palme d’Or. Yet it was Tilda Swinton who broached the topic with measured, persuasive insight. “Of course it’s a task to immediately nobble some people who’ve turned up to the party… [But] we didn’t come here for prizes. We have the wonder and thrill of showing this film at Cannes…and, as in many matters, there is room for everybody.” Bong, meanwhile, seemed nonplussed. “I’m a huge fan of Almodovar…[and] I’m very happy he gets to watch this movie tonight. The fact that he talks about the film – whether in glowing or negative terms – is good for me.”
Swinton also commented that it was “an evolutionary process”, and that, while some people will see the movie in the cinema, there are “thousands of films that screen at Cannes that never show in cinemas.” And Bong praised the company’s support: “I loved working with Netflix…and giving a [considerable] budget to a director isn’t very common – it was a wonderful experience. They truly respected me from beginning to end.”
The film has already invited comparisons to Hayao Miyazaki, with its strong focus on the childhood experience and selfishness of corporations towards the environment. Bong Joon Ho leapt at the comparison, insisting Miyazaki was “a director I’ve greatly admired, I’ve loved him ever since I was young… I wanted to show the relationship [between nature] and capitalism – if I had the opportunity, I’d like to show him the film”. Swinton, too, professed her passion with the Japanese director, and stressed that “there is something about the environment – the environment of childhood, the environment of Okja’s mountain – that is beyond emotion, beyond cinema, a place you can go to be free”.
When asked how the cast felt about the film’s vegetarian message, all professed a universal love of animals – with An Seo Hyun, the young Korean girl who plays Mija, even confessing the film caused her to give up meat. Gyllenhaal was more economical in his message: “I love my dog”.