The 79th edition of the world’s oldest film festival finds Catherine Deneuve still supplying star power and a Netflix picture opening proceedings for the first time
Catherine Deneuve in Venice ahead of her Lifetime Achievement award. Photograph: Stéphane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images
https://www.theguardian.com-Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent
At Venice you’re guaranteed a taste of old Hollywood glamour – Lady Gaga delicately perching over the edge of a moving water taxi, George and Amal Clooney gliding over the horizon or Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck making their red carpet debut.
But the world’s oldest film festival, now entering its 80th year, places equal emphasis on the new. The 11-day event launched on Wednesday with the Adam Driver flick White Noise, marking the first time a Netflix film has officially opened Venice – seven years after the festival became the first to open its competition to streaming services.
Directed by Noah Baumbach and based on the Don DeLillo novel of the same name, White Noise is one of several Netflix entries competing for the Golden Lion top prize this year, as the streaming giant seeks to burnish its arthouse credentials.
The black comedy stars Driver as Jack Gladney, a middle-aged Hitler Studies professor, Greta Gerwig as Babette, his distracted wife, and a household of precocious children who together attempt to deal with an “Airborne Toxic Event”, the mundane conflicts of everyday life, and the universal mysteries love and death.
Baumbach’s last Venice film, Marriage Story, also starring Driver, went on to get six Oscar nominations and a win for Laura Dern. Speaking on Wednesday, the director said he read DeLillo’s novel in the 80s, and then again in 2020 and found that it still felt relevant. A few weeks later, the world shut down due to Covid-19.
“It felt familiar when I was rereading it … I couldn’t believe how relevant it felt. I started not only taking on [DeLillo’s] language but finding my own voice within his.”
Baumbach said the film was about “how we create rituals and strategies to hold off danger and death”. The story, he added, was one of American culture: “I was a child in the 80s, it was a very formative time for me. Movies I saw then informed me.”
Driver said while he and fellow castmates played the characters written for them in the script, it was easy to draw parallels with our time. He said: “You can’t ignore moments where you’re holding a mask, it’s a language we’re [now] more comfortable with.”
Netflix will next week premiere the highly anticipated Blonde, a dark retelling of Marilyn Monroe’s tragic life which could propel Cuban actress Ana de Armas from rising star to fully fledged A-lister. The streaming platform is also behind Bardo, the latest from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who launched his previous films Birdman and The Revenant in Venice on their way to Oscar glory.
Venice is well-timed to launch Academy Award campaigns, and has had a particularly strong track record for directors in recent years. Eight of the last 10 best director Oscars have gone to films that premiered at Venice, including the most recent winner Jane Campion for Power of the Dog. Among the other highly anticipated entries in the coming days is Bones and All, starring Timothée Chalamet as a love-sick cannibal on a road trip across America, reuniting him with Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino. There is early buzz too for Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale starring Brendan Fraser, who has been largely absent from the screen for two decades.
Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, which is playing out of competition and features music megastar Harry Styles in his first leading role, has already generated a number of headlines, from Shia LaBeouf’s abrupt departure to the paparazzi-stoked intrigue around Wilde and Styles’s off-camera relationship. There has also been buzz about its sex scenes and supposed clashes between star Florence Pugh and Wilde – which the director has dismissed as “invented click-bait”.
After two scaled-back editions, the festival returns this year without any pandemic-induced restrictions, but traditional cinemas continue to struggle, raising questions over their financial viability. Speaking at a press conference, jury president Julianne Moore said art should trump business in any debate over the future of cinema.
“There will always be different delivery systems. How we live, how the world progresses is constantly changing, but art doesn’t change,” she said.
Also in attendance on Wednesday was French actress Catherine Deneuve, who is picking up a lifetime achievement award. But the 78-year-old French legend – who has a long history with the festival, going back to 1967 when she starred in Luis Buñuel’s Golden Lion-winning classic Belle de Jour – said she never saw herself as a sex symbol: “It’s not the major thing for me when I work.”
Deneuve also emphasised that she enjoys watching new films in a crowd at a theatre. “I love cinema. I love going to the cinema. I want to be in a cinema with people I don’t know. It’s not just the sound. It’s the atmosphere. At home, it’s very different. You don’t feel things the same at all.”