The Venice Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday with Adam Driver starring in a topical opening film about a deadly health crisis, misinformation and prescription drugs.
“White Noise” is the first of four Netflix-produced films competing for the top prize Golden Lion at the 11-day festival, which is celebrating 90 years since its first edition.
It stars Driver as a Hitler studies professor in a small college town, which experiences an “Airborne Toxic Event” that leaves the community desperate for reliable information - while his wife (played by Greta Gerwig) has her own struggles with prescription meds.
A biting satire of US consumer culture and academic navel-gazing, it reunites Driver with director Noah Baumbach following their lauded “Marriage Story”.
Though based on a famous Don DeLillo novel from 1985, Baumbach told reporters he “couldn’t believe how relevant it felt” when he re-read it in 2020, the year the Covid-19 outbreak became a pandemic.
Driver said he had great fun playing a character “who was so stressed and doing his best to pretend he wasn’t”, but joked that he got carried away fattening up to play a middle-aged dad.
“I put on weight and we had a back-up stomach - and then we didn’t need the back-up stomach,” he said.
Still hunting its first Best Picture Oscar, Netflix has become a key backer of more intellectual directors as traditional Hollywood studios fixate on superhero and franchise blockbusters.
Later in the festival, the streamer is premiering the highly anticipated “Blonde”, a dark retelling of Marilyn Monroe’s tragic life, with rising star Ana de Armas in the lead role.
It is also behind “Bardo”, the latest from Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who launched his previous films “Birdman” and “The Revenant” in Venice on their way to Oscar glory.
The world’s longest-running film festival takes place each year on the beach-lined Lido island and is well-timed to launch Academy Award campaigns.
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” - another Netflix production.
Cannibals and whales
Also gracing the Lido on Wednesday was iconic French actress Catherine Deneuve, who wore a Ukrainian flag pinned to her jacket as she arrived to pick up a lifetime achievement award.
The coming days will see fans trying to catch a glimpse of Timothee Chalamet, who stars as a love-sick cannibal in road movie “Bones and All”, which reunites him with “Call Me By Your Name” director Luca Guadagnino.
There is early buzz, too, for “The Whale” starring Brendan Fraser as a morbidly obese man trying to reconnect with his daughter, directed by Darren Aronofsky who won the Golden Lion in 2008 for “The Wrestler”.
Hollywood and Western Europe dominate the selection of 23 films competing for the hearts of a jury led by US actress Julianne Moore.
One notable exception is Iran’s award-winning filmmaker Jafar Panahi, whose “No Bears” is premiering barely a month after he was imprisoned in Tehran amid a crackdown on dissident directors.
But the movie most likely to get tongues wagging is “Don’t Worry Darling”, playing out of competition on Monday, which features music megastar Harry Styles in his first leading role, directed by his girlfriend Olivia Wilde.