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Film ponders what would we do on last day of Earth?

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By Mike Collett-White

VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Director Abel Ferrara ponders how we would behave knowing death was coming to us all in an environmental disaster in "4:44 Last Day on Earth," his latest film starring Willem Dafoe.

The movie, one of 23 in the main competition at the Venice film festival, has its world premiere Wednesday as the annual cinema showcase enters the final stretch ahead of Saturday's awards.

In the film Dafoe plays Cisco, a successful actor, while Shanyn Leigh portrays his partner, an artist, in the actress's first lead role.

The couple have sex, eat, cry and bicker as 4.44 a.m., the time when everyone knows the end will come, gets closer.

Rather than reflecting the shock and panic of first learning of Earth's fate, the movie is set instead when people have accepted what awaits them.

Ferrara, who has worked with Dafoe before on "Go Go Tales" and "New Rose Hotel" and is most famous for 1992's "Bad Lieutenant," said the device made the movie more universal.

"We all know we're going to die every moment of every day," he told reporters after a press screening of the movie in Venice. "What you do in the meantime is what life is all about."

News footage, including a real interview by environmental campaigner and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, makes clear that the cause of Earth's demise is man-made.

"This film is about man's destruction of the Earth," Ferrara said.

"It's on us. It's our responsibility. We did it. This isn't an accident, or an act of God as they say in the insurance claim. This is an act of man.

"That's a nightmare. That's part of the anguish. There's a lot more further advanced civilizations than ours that have bit the dust ... it's not like: 'Oh my God, this could never happen'."

SUICIDE, DRUGS, NORMALITY

Asked whether Gore was officially attached to the film, the director said he had "reached out" to the former U.S. vice president and that he was "definitely pro," although he had not seen it.

As Cisco looks out from his apartment roof, a man in a nearby building jumps to his death, while for others life goes on as normal -- the couple even manage to order a takeaway.

The Asian boy who delivers the food uses Cisco's laptop to talk to his relatives abroad one last time over the internet, while Cisco himself breaks down as he says farewell to his daughter with whom he no longer lives.

Dafoe's character also faces a choice of whether to reach the end sober or high on drugs.

"I think a lot of my little scenes ... they are all colored by this idea about where you direct your mind," said the star of films as diverse as "Spider-Man," "Platoon" and "The Last Temptation of Christ."

"The basic choice (is) about how awake you want to be in this world and how you approach that.

"It (the film) deals with very elemental philosophical questions, but it's played out in a very practical way so the narrative is quite normal."

Also with world premieres Wednesday are Italian competition entry "Quando la Notte" and "The Exchange" by Israel's Eran Kolirin, who made the acclaimed "The Band's Visit."

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)