‘Background noise’: Noah Baumbach achieves a strange artifact with an unadaptable novel

The list is long: Hopscotch, of Cortazar; one hundred years of solitude of Garcia Marquez; the infinite joke, by David Foster Wallace; Ulises, by James Joyce; naked lunch, from Burroughs; Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne; The rainbow of gravity, by Thomas Pynchon; Time of silence, by Luis Martin-Santos… Novels that, because of their very particular prose, because of their absence of narrative, because of the singularity of their points of view, because of their syntax, because of their length or structure and, finally, because of their impossibility of translation into cinematographic language, have always had earned a reputation as misfits. And, nevertheless, some of them, those of Burroughs, Sterne and Martín-Santos from this paradigmatic list, were brought to the screen in movies of David Cronenberg, Michael Winterbottom and Vicente Aranda who, to say the least, weren’t bad at all. Mind you, embracing his spirit more than his style and pruning them in such a way that the resulting visual trees were barely shadows of his literary vastness.

Another of those endless totems for the cinema is Background noise, novel of Don DeLillo published in 1985. But since art is full of daring, and it is good that it is so, the American Noah Baumbach has ventured with a work co-produced by the very special production company A24, which premieres today exclusively on the Netflix platform. In principle, and despite the appearance in recent years of complex jewels such as I’m thinking of quitting (2020), by Charlie Kaufman, there is no less Netflix movie than this one, and it will surely break records for interrupted viewings before half an hour. However, those who are interested, those who are open-minded about cinema and art, and above all patients, can be rewarded because the resulting strange artifact is attractive, despite the fact that it is difficult to enter it.

Background noise it is arduous, crazy and absurd. It is at the same time, and sometimes consecutively, a satire on university academic life, a postmodernist essay, a bitter comedy about death, a broken family drama, an acid celebration (and criticism of intellectualism) of popular culture, and a lucid dystopia with technology. consumerism, monotony and the chemical obsession with a form of happiness that at least banishes the fear of trance as the main culprits of the disaster. For being, in its final sequence next to the credits, it is even a colorful and happy musical full of irony and malice, sounded by a formidable original song by LCD Soundsystem, the perfect title for the seductive nonsense by DeLillo and Baumbach: New Body Rhumba.

The collective threat that hovers over the novel has entered a new dimension with the covid pandemic, and with the feeling in recent years that anything can stalk us, embitter us, and annihilate us as a species. “Death is in the air.” In the film, a poisonous cloud forces society as a whole and the members of the main family in particular to stay at home, windows closed, terror in the body. Then run away to nowhere. DeLillo’s clairvoyance, with this company specialized in preventive simulations, is reflected in Baumbach’s courage in tone, here very far from his usual contemporary realism, that of works as powerful as Margot and the Wedding, Frances Ha, While We’re Young and Story of a marriage, further guiding his cast down a daring path of riled-up performances.

Of course, the film is the visual and sound skeleton of a complex book about uncertainty. But the fear of dying, at the base of the novel, is also in the essence of the film. As the protagonist played by Adam Driver says: “Let’s enjoy these aimless days while we can.”

Background noise

Direction: Noah Baumbach.

Performers: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Jodie Turner-Smith, Don Cheadle.

Gender: comedy. USA, 2022.

Platform: Netflix.

Duration: 136 minutes.

Premiere: December 30.

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‘Background noise’: Noah Baumbach achieves a strange artifact with an unadaptable novel

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