• Festivals

Venice 2022: “White Noise”, dir. Noah Baumbach

The 79th Venice Film Festival opened with a screening of Noah Baumbach’s newest film, White Noise, on August 31. It’s the first time the American writer-director has written an adapted screenplay, the source material being a novel of the same name by American author Don DeLillo. However, it’s not surprising that Baumbach chose this novel, first published in 1985, to adapt, as it employs a darkly humorous tone to deal with themes that have become familiar, such as living through a pandemic and environmental disaster. During the press conference that was held after the screening, Baumbach admitted that during the preparation period, he started not only taking on DeLillo’s language but also “finding my own voice within his language. It was something that felt very familiar.” Even less surprising is the fact that Baumbach cast his frequent collaborators, Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig (also Baumbach’s life partner), to star in his film about family.

Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig play a married couple with five children, most of whom are the result of different past relationships. They seem to lead an idyllic life, until the so-called “Airborne Toxic Event,” a chemical spill from a rail car, releases a black noxious cloud where the family lives, triggering a widescale evacuation. It takes some time for the family to recognize the scale of danger because they are used to watching disasters on TV and in cinema. And even after the danger is over, there is nobody to explain to them what to do with the whole experience that they have been through. Is it possible simply to come back to their previous routine? Noah Baumbach revealed that he found a message in the novel; and, he says, “the message that I set out it in the movie is it’s an opportunity to become closer. The family starts to look more inward and then they start to come closer.”



Knowing the directorial style of Noah Baumbach, who usually works especially closely with actors during the preparation period, it was interesting to listen to the cast’s thoughts on the creative process. Greta Gerwig, who is almost unrecognizable in the movie wearing a blonde curly wig, said that during a long stretch of rehearsal their characters “became real people.” As she put it, “in the world of the novel, they felt more abstracted in a way, and then once you’re embodying it and in the rhythms of the dialogue and getting to act with someone like Adam, they just stopped being ideas, and that’s when I guess they felt more like characters in a Baumbach movie, but they feel very intertwined.” Adam Driver agreed with her, adding, however, that physical transformation always helps. In order to portray a college professor who is a leading specialist in the study of Hitler, Adam also donned a wig, but one with a receding hairline. He also put on weight. He added, smiling slyly, “and as a backup, we had a backup stomach and then we didn’t need the backup stomach. Then it was just my weight. And that was uncomfortable.”

Don Cheadle, who plays another college professor who specializes in the study of Elvis Presley, confessed, “I think you always try to make sure you’re not commenting on your character. You just want to play them as authentically and as truthfully as what’s been laid out for you to play.” In response to a question about how she found his balancing act as a performer without making it too stylized and keeping it a little ridiculous, but still understandable and likable, Jodie Turner-Smith, who portrayed a chemistry professor, answered: “I feel like that’s life, though, it’s a mixture of the absurd and the beautiful, warm, and sad. I think we’re all used to walking those lines in our own lives.”


It’s true. Seeing the way people who were preparing to leave the theater at the end of the screening were hypnotized by the final credit scene of the cast dancing in a supermarket, you have to believe that life is indeed a mixture of the absurd and beautiful. Noah Baumbach revealed that he told his composer, “Essentially, write the song you would have written if you were writing music in 1980, ’85, and write a really catchy, fun song about death.”