The 79th Venice Film Festival kicked off Wednesday night with the world premiere of White Noise, Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of Don Delillo’s “unfilmable” 1985 novel and a video cameo by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Starring Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, and with a cast that includes Don Cheadle, Jodie Turner-Smith, May Nivola, Raffey Cassidy and Sam Nivola — all of whom attended Venice’s red carpet premiere, White Noise is the first Netflix film to open the world’s oldest film festival.

Baumbach’s last feature, Marriage Story, also starring Driver, alongside Scarlett Johansson, premiered in Venice in 2019, launching a successful awards season run for the divorce drama, which ended with six Oscar nominations and one win, a best supporting actress nod for Laura Dern. Netflix will be hoping for a similar reception for White Noise on the Lido this year.

The film centers on university professor Jack Gladney (Driver) and his wife, Babette (Gerwig), as they grapple with fears of death and family life after a nearby chemical explosion pollutes the air. 

Earlier in the day, Baumbach told the story of how he had asked LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, who was among the opening-night crowd, to write a new track for the movie. “I told James, essentially, write the song you would have written if you were writing music in 1985, and write a really catchy, fun song about death,” he recalled.

Ahead of the screening, Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera officially opened the 2022 festival together with Spanish actress and host Rocío Muñoz Morales and introduced the international jury, headed by Julianne Moore. The star and her seven-person jury, which includes Argentina director Mariano Cohn, Italian director and screenwriter Leonardo Di Costanzo, French director Audrey Diwan, Iranian actress Leila Hatami, the British-Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro and Spanish director and screenwriter Rodrigo Sorogoyen, will pick this year’s Golden Lion winners, which will be unveiled on Sept. 10.

As he had done for the opening ceremony in Cannes, Zelensky sent an impassioned video message that played during the Venice opening event. He called on the global community to not forget about the war in Ukraine. “Your stance is strong… do not turn your back on Ukraine,” he said, before names of civilians killed in the war scrolled across the screen.

The host who gave a passionate and very personal tribute to the power of cinema. “We cannot live without cinema and its stories,” she said. French director Arnaud Desplechin presented Catherine
Deneuve her Golden Lion for lifetime achievement, saying: “I know only one artist as proud and free as you: Bob Dylan.”

The crowd rose in a standing ovation for the French film legend, who said that she felt “very proud” for the honor but quipped that she didn’t feel her life was “much of an achievement.”

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