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Terrence Malick typically heads to Europe when he’s ready to unveil his tour-de-force dramas — his recent movies have debuted at film festivals in Venice, Cannes, and Berlin. But on Friday night, the reclusive director stayed close to home in Austin for SXSW’s opening night premiere of his romantic dramedy “Song to Song.”

The movie was shot in Austin, where the city shines as brightly as its cast. Ryan Gosling, who was met with shrieks as he snaked inside the Paramount Theatre, joined Rooney Mara and Michael Fassbender for a brief introduction on stage.

The film follows a music executive (Fassbender) who quarrels with his business partner (Gosling) as they both embark on a series of tortured romantic affairs.

Michael Fassbender arrives at the SXSW premiere of “Song to Song.” Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

“It’s intense,” Fassbender said of working with Malick. “It’s challenging. It’s rewarding. It’s fun. Scary. Essentially, he never stops writing.”

True to industry lore, the actors learned new lines as they were about to shoot their scenes, cut in a stream-of-consciousness style that’s become the trademark to Malick’s work.

“We always wanted to have the experience of working with Terrence Malick,” added Gosling. “Every day is different. Suddenly, Patti Smith is there,” he said of a small part played by the punk-rock icon.

Ryan Gosling suited up for opening night in Austin. Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Despite its title, the movie doesn’t feature much singing. But there are supporting roles for Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett as love interests, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Val Kilmer.

The slow and experimental pace of the indie prompted a smattering of attendees to bail midway through the picture. One of the film’s producers ate potato chips in the lobby. And although the press-averse Malick made the trip to Texas, he wasn’t introduced on stage with his cast. The end credits were met with brief applause.

Janet Pierson, the festival’s head of film, kicked off the screening by noting that 130 features are playing at SXSW.

“Song to Song” opens March 17 from distributor Broad Green Pictures.

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