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Venice hopes best is last

Fest betting on 'Black,' 'Bulworth'

VENICE — As the 55th Venice Film Festival pulls into its final weekend, all hopes are being pinned upon two late contenders — Emir Kusturica’s “Black Cat, White Cat” and Warren Beatty’s “Bulworth” — to provide the official competition with a worthy winner of the Golden Lion.

Nothing so far has unspooled to widespread acclaim in the main selection, while a number of high-profile pics, notably Abel Ferrara’s “New Rose Hotel,” have been universally panned.

So much so that the Ferrara pic was suddenly declared only a “work in progress,” prompting questions about why it had been entered into the competition at all.

“Laughed’ underwhelms

The latest disappointment is Gianni Amelio’s “The Way We Laughed,” which execs from several U.S. companies, including Summit Entertainment, Miramax and Goldwyn Films, traveled to Venice specially to see.

Cecchi Gori is keen to sell off all international rights to a single buyer, with Summit and Miramax widely tipped as the leading contenders, but there was no stampede to Cecchi Gori’s door after the world premiere here Thursday, and critics were generally negative.

Strong sidebars

But strong showings by several pics in the various sidebars have given Venice an air of critical respectability, at the risk of rendering the end of term prize-giving itself somewhat irrelevant to the real action at the fest.

Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth,” screening out of competition, and Goran Paskeljevic’s “The Powder Keg,” in the Perspectives sidebar, have won general praise. Yet both still face considerable, though very different marketing challenges.

“Elizabeth,” produced by Working Title Films for Polygram Filmed Entertainment, features a career-making perf from Australian actress Cate Blanchett as the Virgin Queen, supported by numerous powerful turns from a cosmopolitan cast including Geoffrey Rush, Chris Eccleston, Fanny Ardant and Vincent Cassell.

The film makes a bold effort to break out of the conventional niche for Brit costume drama, but whether such an historical epic can reach the kind of mainstream audience it needs to justify its $26 million budget remains an open question.

The film’s depiction of the French and Catholics in particular could prove a handicap in some parts of continental Europe, and the Gallic contingent here has already taken against the pic, despite the standout cameos from French stars Ardant, Cassell and former soccer star Eric Cantona.

Paskaljevic’s “The Powder Keg,” a savagely dark odyssey through one night in contempo Belgrade, is already being called by some the first true masterpiece of this year’s fest. UGC Intl. kicked off its sales push here, closing an Italian deal with Medusa Films, but there’s concern that the film will be overshadowed by Kusturica’s lighter-hearted Golden Lion contender “Black Cat, White Cat.”

Woody Allen’s “Celebrity,” which world preemed here Thursday, also had many enthusiastic fans, although others found it tedious and flat, and many were irritated by a central perf from Kenneth Branagh that amounts to a two-hour impersonation of Woody himself. The film, repped by Intermedia, is already sold everywhere except the U.K., where Allen’s regular distrib Buena Vista is likely to step up again.

The director’s status among Euro critics ensured that press screenings for “Celebrity” were the most oversubscribed of the fest, with many Italian journos outraged to be shut out. One broke through the cordon of guards and made a dash for the auditorium, only to be dragged down and thrown out.

Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight,” starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, also drew general appreciation for a level of subtlety unexpected in the Hollywood studio thriller, without convincing anyone that its laid-back style would be any more likely to hook a wider public in Europe than it did Stateside. Pic is being released here by UIP for Universal.

Not much was expected of Ferrara’s “New Rose Hotel,” the only significant English-lingo pic at Venice without U.S. distribution in place, but even those expectations proved too high.

After a disastrous reception here, it was announced that the film was not yet completed — although that news came as a surprise even to the pic’s publicists — leaving people to question why it had been included in the main competition at all.

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