Filmmaker Noah Baumbach and the cast of his delightfully eccentric Don DeLillo adaptation White Noise met the international press in Venice Wednesday just hours ahead of the film’s festival-opening world premiere.
White Noise 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. Raffey Cassidy, André Benjamin, Jodie Turner-Smith and Don Cheadle also star. The film, which Baumbach wrote, is the first project he has released that wasn’t based on his own original idea.
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In the press conference, Baumbach reflected on the poignancy of the novel’s story and DeLillo’s language, which he said he by chance he was re-reading at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I both couldn’t believe how relevant it felt and how relevant it felt to the moment, but it also felt that whatever moment was going on, it would feel relevant to that,” he said. “I felt that I was taking on his language, but also felt that I was finding my own voice in his language.”
Baumbach pointed to a particular line in the book, where Driver’s character says “family is the cradle of misinformation.”
“I thought that was a wonderful representation not only of the country — America — but the world at large — how we take in information today. And as you see with the kids in the film, they’re constantly saying, “Is that true?” Well, maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not — they don’t ever know.”
As a child of the 1980s, when the film is set, the director noted that the decade was a very formative time for him, with the movies that he saw then informing him and leading him to become a filmmaker himself.
“So I also saw [White Noise] as a story of cinema. Because of the genre elements and tonal shifts, I could use this language,” he said. “I’m close with Bian DePalma, and I would say, oh you used those Hitchcock shots. And he said, no, Hitchcock created a language that’s now available to us. So I thought I would make use of the cinema languages that were available to me from the film language of the 1980s. The 1980s noir. The disaster movies. The rom-coms. The family on vacation movies. There’s a coherence in it all, because DeLillo laid it all out for me. People have said, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen you do any of that before.’ But the past material didn’t call for it, and this film really did. So I went there.”
White Noise ends with a dance sequence in a supermarket set to a new new track by LCD Soundsystem, a track Baumbach simply asked the band’s frontman James Murphy to write.
“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 said.
White Noise reunites the director with Driver after 2019’s Marriage Story. That film, in which Driver co-starred opposite Scarlett Johansson, also premiered at Venice before going on to collect six Oscar nominations and one win. White Noise also is the fourth film to co-star Gerwig, Baumbach’s wife and frequent collaborator.
Following Venice, White Noise heads home to the U.S. where it will open the New York Film Festival on Sept. 30 — the first time a movie has opened both festivals — prior to a Netflix release later this year.
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