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“Okja” and “Wonderstruck” debut to raves at the Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes Film Festival is currently going on over in France. It won’t wrap up for a few days still, but now is a fine time to check in and see how the fest is going. Cannes is the most prestigious festival in the world, so it always marks a seminal point in the season, regardless of what is playing. This year, the lineup has seemed, at least to me, a little less top notch than usual. Still, plenty of quality movies have debuted, without question. Awards will be handed out next week, and we’ll cover that, but for now…let’s just discuss what’s playing in the south of France right now.

So far at Cannes, two of the more interesting titles to be largely feted include Okja and Wonderstruck. Also in the mix for heavy praise are The Florida Project, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) as well as the divisive The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Okja saw some controversy due to Netflix being behind it (they’re putting out The Meyerowitz Stories too), but more on that later. As for some other festival titles of note, we have Happy End, Loveless, Redoubtable, and The Square, just name a few in competition. That doesn’t even include things that already played elsewhere, like Wind River, for example. The top prize seems very much up for grabs, though that’ll be a discussion for the end of the week.

Having seen Okja earlier on this week, I found it to be pretty good stuff, if very odd, to say the least. I’ll have more on it closer to its release, but quickly, a primer. It’s the story of, instead of a boy and his dog, a girl and her super pig. Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) is a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company run by Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) from kidnapping her best friend. That friend just happens to be a massive genetically engineered animal named Okja. Bong Joon Ho co-writes with Jon Ronson and directs. The ensemble cast also includes Lily Collins, Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal, Shirley Henderson, Steven Yeun, and more. Darius Khondji contributes the cinematography here.

Wonderstruck played last week and for a brief moment seemed to be an instant Oscar contender. Now, some of that might have been a rush to praise, but the odds do favor it being in play when the Academy starts to think about their choices at the end of the year. For those wondering what it is, the film tells the story of a young boy in the Midwest while telling simultaneously the tale of a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection. One segment is done completely silently, which should perk up some cinephiles. Todd Haynes directs the script that Brian Selznick penned, adapting his own novel. The cast includes Oakes Fegley, Julianne Moore, Millicent Simmonds, Michelle Williams, Damian Young, and more. Cinematography is by the legendary Edward Lachman (getting high praise), while Carter Burwell does the score, which has gotten as much buzz as anything.

I’ll have Palme d’Or predictions on Friday, but as hinted at above, the race seems wide open. A lot will have to do with how the jury ends up feeling at the time. Members include Maren Ade, Pedro Almodovar, Jessica Chastain, Will Smith, and Park Chan-wook, making for an eclectic panel. They could opt to honor something consensus feeling, or go bold like other juries have in the past. Anyway, sit tight for more on that. Consider this just a very small taste. I still have to look into it more anyway. Right now, I’d simply be firing blindly in the dark with any picks. Essentially, Cannes seems to be a solid, if slightly unspectacular, festival this year. In some ways, 2017 has been that way in general. Make of that what you will…

Stay tuned for Cannes award predictions in a few days and news of the results next week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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