Brendan Fraser’s return to the movies was greeted with an adoring reception on Sunday night in Venice, one which seemed to even catch the star himself by surprise. 

The Whale — Darren Aronofsky’s A24 drama touted as a career comeback for Fraser, the former Hollywood leading man who effectively disappeared from the big screen — had already been hyped as one of the must-watch films of the festival, and it garnered hugely positive responses following its first press screening on Saturday. The crowd at the world premiere on the Lido was just as enthusiastic, giving the film a boisterous seven-minute standing ovation.

Fraser gave several bows and was holding back tears as he appeared to be shaken and shocked by the reaction. The actor stopped to sign autographs and pose for photos on the stairs, and he also shared a hug and a chat with Steve Buscemi, who was seated a few rows back.

Adapted from Samuel D. Hunter’s stage play, The Whale sees Fraser as a 600-pound recluse searching for redemption, while friends and family seek to offer him support and also exploit his good nature. Hong Chau and Sadie Sink also star. 

Speaking at the film’s press conference earlier in the day, Fraser — a household name in the 1990s and early 2000s for major films including The Mummy franchise, George of the Jungle and more dramatic titles such as Crash — said he was “just trying to stay in the today,” when asked if The Whale could mark a comeback. “I’m looking forward to how this film will make a deep impression on everyone, much as it has on me.”

He also described his character as a “light in an enclosed dark space” and someone with special resonance in today’s world of turmoil and decisiveness. 

After its Venice splashdown, The Whale travels to the Toronto InternationalFilm Festival before its North American release on Dec. 9.

The Whale will be released in India also in December this year by IMPACT FILMS.

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