The premiere of “Joker” at the Venice Film Festival drew an eight-minute standing ovation Saturday night for actor Joaquin Phoenix, director Todd Phillips and the gripping but harrowing origin story they’ve mapped out for Batman’s arch-villain.
Phoenix and Phillips were joined in the Sala Grande by Zazie Beetz, who also stars in the film as Phoenix’s character’s neighbour. Robert De Niro, who plays a talk-show host, did not make the trek to the Lido.
Buzz in Venice had been growing steadily around the Warner Bros. movie, from the time of its unveiling last month as part of the lineup to the climax of the two press screenings and red-carpet premiere Saturday. Both press screenings were packed, with the second one also drawing loud applause at the end and cheers when Phoenix’s name appeared in the closing credits.
The film is part of the DC Comics universe but stands alone as an origin story and does not include any appearances by Batman or other caped crusaders. It opens in the U.S. on October 4.
Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck, a sad sack and mentally troubled man who transforms into an icon of violent nihilism, is already generating awards talk. He said earlier Saturday that previous essays of the role – such as Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn in “The Dark Knight” a decade ago – did not influence him.
“I didn’t refer to any past iteration of the character,” Phoenix said. “It just felt like something that was our creation in some ways.”
Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera has stoked the awards buzz, saying that “Joker” is headed “straight to the Oscars.”
Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman also praised the film, writing, “Joaquin Phoenix” is astonishing as a mentally ill geek who becomes the killer-clown Joker in Todd Phillips’ neo-‘Taxi Driver’ knockout: the rare comic-book movie that expresses what’s happening in the real world.”
After Venice, “Joker” heads to Toronto for another festival bow.