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Romance woes Venice; ‘Dust’ busts

Auds embrace 'Wedding,' 'Mama'

VENICE — Breaking a six-year trend of Hollywood domination, the return of a European production to the Venice Intl. Film Festival’s prestigious opening night slot should have been a local industry celebration.

Instead, the Aug. 29 world premiere of “Dust” provided a seriously underwhelming sendoff for the grande dame of Euro fests’ 58th edition.

Demonstrating that the sophomore curse can be a powerful malediction, Milcho Manchevski’s return to the Lido proved a far cry from the Macedonian director’s debut here in 1994 with “Before the Rain,” which walked away with the Golden Lion and went on to earn an Oscar nom for best foreign language film.

Violent reaction

The violence, brutality and misguided aims of the blood-drenched Balkan Western attracted few defenders on the Lido.

But sex, romance and family conflict had audiences applauding in two entertaining entries that unspooled during the opening days, both of which are the kind of commercial comedy-dramas rarely seen in fest competitions.

World-premiering in Venice, Mira Nair’s Bollywood-meets-Hollywood chronicle of the frantic preparations for a middle-class family’s New Delhi nuptials, “Monsoon Wedding,” had a rousing welcome. Segueing from Venice to a screening in Toronto, the film goes out Stateside through USA Films.

Having broken B.O. records by grossing $12 million in its native Mexico, Alfonso Cuaron’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (And Your Mother Too), about two horny adolescents who hit the road with a comely older Spanish woman, began its international rollout with a similarly warm reception. Pic segues to showings at the Toronto, San Sebastian and New York fests before opening in the U.S. via IFC in March.

Mix on ‘Bully’

The teen promiscuity of “Mama” and the violence of “Dust” also were factors in Larry Clark’s youth homicide drama “Bully,” which divided critics much as it did in its U.S. release. Pic stoked considerable media debate on contempo adolescent mores and film censorship standards.

With both “Monsoon” and “Mama” already sold to most major territories, acquisitions execs on the Lido — Miramax, Fine Line, Paramount Classics, USA Films, Universal Focus and IFC are among U.S. companies repped — are primed for a string of key titles due to unspool in the second week.

High on buyers’ radars are Brazil’s “Behind the Sun,” from “Central Station” helmer Walter Salles; Goran Paskaljevic’s Irish folktale, “How Harry Became a Tree”; Clare Peploe’s period piece “The Triumph of Love”; and Jill Sprecher’s “13 Conversations About One Thing,” with Matthew McConaughey.

Observers will be watching closely in Venice this year to assess the success of fest director Alberto Barbera’s new dual competition formula, the aims of which he outlined on opening night.

Room for kudos

“There are so many different types of cinema in the world today, from Hollywood spectaculars to experimental and digital work; from films told through the eyes of women to work from the young filmmakers of yesterday that have become the masters of today,” said Barbera.

“It’s to give the attention they deserve to all these faces of cinema that this year we have two competitions with two top awards.”

But while the traditional lineup has yielded its share of stimulating titles, the newly established Cinema of the Present competition for less conventional fare offered scant rewards during Venice’s opening stretch.

Only b&w French debut “Deep Breath” by Damien Odoul, which again portrays youth violence, stirred some critical interest.

Hopes for a discovery in this section rest mainly on Sprecher’s film; Chilean Andres Wood’s drama of greed and chaos, “Loco Fever”; and Laurent Cantet’s “Time Out,” which follows the Gallic director’s breakthrough with “Human Resources.”

The Venice fest runs through Sept. 8.

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