OKJA — CANNES 2017
Bong Joon Ho’s family-friendly political satire could well be the most important film of 2017. Without addressing this film’s canny political statements about corporate-controlled food production, “Okja” was preemptively ostracized at Cannes by Pedro Almodóvar who feigned indignation over “Okja’s” Netflix release because it wasn’t being played on big screens in France.
Almodóvar’s pre-festival comments most certainly queered the film's chances of winning the Palme d’Or, for which it was in competition. The Spanish filmmaker’s public statements during a pre-festival press conference at Cannes were pointedly overstated considering that there is already a French law that prevents VOD releases occurring until three years after a film’s theatrical run. Never mind that Pedro Almodóvar’s career has been on the wane since 2011 when he made “The Skin I Live In.” There were a lot of sour grapes at this year’s festival.
Bong Joon Ho’s mother country of South Korea blocked “Okja’s” release due to Netflix’s simultaneous theatrical and online release, which should be standard operating procedure by now to begin with. However much the cards seem to be stacked against “Okja,” the film is destined to go down in history based on its merits as an international satire with teeth.
Director Joon-ho co-wrote “Okja” with Jon Ronson (“The Men Who Stare At Goats”) based on Ronson’s original script. While the film is not without its kneejerk clichés, it clocks editorial punches that connect regarding genetically modified food and ways in which corporations, and the corporate media, spin the sins they are guilty of committing. Think Exxon or Monsanto.
Tilda Swinton plays dual roles as good/evil siblings Nancy/Lucy Mirando, granddaughters of a corporate raider whose sins they are professedly correcting through ethical means. Sound familiar? Lucy gives a press conference announcing the breeding of a “super pig” which will be used to feed the world 10 years down the line.
Jump 10 years. Mija (An Seo-hyun) is a young girl living an idyllic life in the mountains of South Korea with her grandfather and her docile super pig Okja, that she has been given to raise. Naturally, the Mirando Corporation wants their prize pig back. They send in Johnny Wilcox, a goofball television animal expert to take Okja away from Mija. The film goes on a full frontal attack when it employs the Animal Liberation Front (referencing an actual international [leaderless] group committed to “engaging in illegal [nonviolent] direct action in pursuit of animal rights.” Paul Dano plays Jay, the group’s sensitive leader.
“Okja” is an effective piece of filmic political satire that can now only be viewed in the context of the pressures mounted against it. As is life, it’s good to know who your enemies are.
Rated TV-MA. 118 mins.
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