Andrew Dominik’s long-gestating Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde received a reception Thursday night at its Venice world premiere that somehow managed to be both rapturous and stunned. The contradictory nature of that response reflects the divisiveness that will most likely follow the harrowing NC-17 movie into awards season. 

The Venice audience responded with rousing applause and a heap of appreciation as the nearly three-hour-long film came to a close, rising to give Dominik and his cast a standing ovation lasting around 14 minutes, the longest of the festival so far. The most exuberant moments of appreciation seemed to come when the attention was focused on star Ana de Armas, whose fully committed performance as Marilyn Monroe is certain to spark Oscar speculation. By the end of the ovation, Dominik and his full cast were in tears.

The epic biopic, which also marks Dominik’s first film since his 2012 Brad Pitt crime thriller Killing Them Softly, is due for a limited theatrical release Sept. 16, before hitting Netflix on Sept. 28. Pitt, whose company Plan B produced Blonde (he’s also a producer), walked the red carpet before the premiere, eliciting a frenzied reaction and huge applause from the Venice fest crowd.

Blonde is based on Joyce Carol Oates’ acclaimed, 700-page novel of the same name, which The New Yorker once dubbed “the definitive study of American celebrity.” Dominik spent 11 years developing the film and trying to bring it to fruition. The movie examines the whole sweep of the Hollywood icon’s life, from her troubled childhood as Norma Jeane to her career climb to superstardom as Marilyn Monroe. The film’s graphic depictions of the various forms of abuse and trauma inflicted upon Monroe are certain to generate discussion — and discomfort — once it hits Netflix. Throughout Blonde‘s lengthy runtime, Dominik holds close to an intimate, first-person perspective, giving the audience no escape from Monroe’s many agonies.  

The film also stars Adrien Brody as Arthur Miller, Bobby Cannavale as Joe DiMaggio and Julianne Nicholson as Marilyn’s troubled mother. Brody and Nicholson were both on hand for the premiere, walking the Venice red carpet arm-in-arm with Dominik and de Armas. 

During the press conference earlier in the day, de Armas and Dominik said they felt the presence of Marilyn during the production of Blonde, some of which took place in the late actress’ actual former residences, including the home in which she died. “I truly believe that she was very close to us — she was with us,” de Armas said. “We were in her service, in a way,” she added. “She was all I thought about. She was all I dreamed about. She was all I could talk about. She was with me. And it was beautiful.” 

Blonde also stars Xavier Samuel, Evan Williams, Lily Fisher, Toby Huss, David Warshofsky, Caspar Phillipson, Dan Butler, Sara Paxton and Rebecca Wisocky. The film is produced by Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Tracey Landon and Scott Robertson, with Christina Oh as executive producer.

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