Friday 23 June 2017

Two films about the human relationship with animals

Okja is the latest film from cult Korean director Bong Joon Ho (who also directed Snowpiercer which I saw at the 2013 Edinburgh International Film Festival and which I reviewed here).

Okja is one of several superpigs bred by the Mirando corporation, who, lead by Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) want to present themselves as the environmentally friendly face of mass food production. The baby superpigs are sent out to farmers across the world who are asked to look after the creatures for ten years in the ways traditional to their area. One of these baby superpigs is Okja, who finds himself living in the stunning mountain scenery of South Korea with Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her grandfather. Mija and Okja become inseparable, wandering the hillsides together and enjoying bathing in the mountain pools. Mija sees Okja as a cute, cuddly, clumsy companion, the Mirando Corporation see Okja as a producer of meat once she has grown up.

Dressing the occasion up as an audition for the 'best superpig in the world competition' representatives of the Mirando corporation visit Mija and Okja and kidnap Okja.

There then follows an adventurous chase across continents with Mija wanting only to rescue Okja from both the Mirando Corporation and the Animal Liberation Front, who she doesn't trust.

Okja is a wonderfully imagined creature, part giant pig, part hippopotamous, part everyone's favourite puppy and is the centre of this sometimes sweet and adorable, at times incredibly upsetting and other times hilariously funny film that has a serious message about animal rights and corporate miuse of power.

Okja inexplicably has failed to get release into cinemas (this follows on from Snowpiercer inexplicably failing to get released into UK cinemas) and is going straight to Netflix after the festival is over. Therefore this may be your one and only chance to see this brilliant film on the big screen. So book one of the dates below and remember to take a box of tissues.

Due to the distressing nature of some of the scenes later in the film, I'd advise not taking young children to this film (it doesn't have a certificate yet, but I'd put it at a 15, possibly a 12).

Okja is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 1715, Sunday 25 June at Filmhouse and at 1805, Wednesday 28 at Cineworld. You can book your tickets here (it's apparently selling out quickly so hurry!)

The Challenge is a documentary about the commodification of  birds used in falconry among super rich sheikhs in Qatar. This documentary, relying on atmospheric sequences rather than narrative or dialogue, is a fascinating peek into the world of the super-rich and their expensive hobbies. You can't help but feel sorry for the falcons, mostly (I think) saker falcons, and their prey, the captive pigeons. To me it seems as though the director has been influenced by Werner Herzog in his observations of the oddities of life in the desert. Striking set pieces include the Qatari chapter of the Hells Angels stopping in the middle of the desert to pray to Mecca, a super rich sheikh driving his sports car with a tame cheetah in the passenger seat, four wheel drive vehicles gathering in crowds to race through the desert, a giant TV showing football in the middle of the desert. Most bizzare of all perhaps is the scene showing the falcons been pampered on a luzury jet flight!

It's an engrossing film (though personally I found some of the car centred scenes a bit tedious) and certainly offers a glimpse into another world. Also striking is how it highlights the balance between the ancient tradition of falconry and modern life and technology.

The Challenge is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 2035 Sunday 25 June at Cineworld and at 2040 Saturday 1 July at Edinburgh Filmhouse. You can buy tickets here.

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