'Burn' stars heat up red carpet

Joel and Ethan Coen’s screwball spy comedy “Burn After Reading” got the Venice Film Festival off to a rollicking, star-studded start in what otherwise promises to be a markedly cerebral 65th edition.

George Clooney and Brad Pitt sent the paparazzi into a frenzy, strutting down the Lido’s high-concept catwalk following one of Venice’s most vapidpress conferences in recent memory.

“The film talks about some incredibly idiotic people who do some really stupid things,” said Clooney, before rescuing Pitt from a barrage of questions about fatherhood.

Co-stars Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton were also on hand.Generally eschewing cinematic concerns, many of the journos went for the jugular with personal questions. One Brazilian reporter asked Pitt whether bedding a beautiful woman in Venice was preferable to winning an Oscar.

“Brad, don’t answer that,” responded Clooney, before McDormand broke in.

“Why shouldn’t I be answering that question?” she quipped. “I’d certainly love to be sleeping with an Italian woman here in Venice.”

McDormand is married to Joel Coen.

The Coens did get in a handful of marginally more meaningful comments about the pic, which is the second consecutive Working Title production to open Venice following last year’s “Atonement.”

Working Title co-toppers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, along with Focus chief James Schamus and Universal co-chairman David Linde, also jetted in to the Lido to tubthump.

“We did a spy movie because we hadn’t done one before,” explained Ethan Coen. “We could have done a dog movie or an outer-space movie, but we ended up doing this. There’s no conscious pattern. We certainly weren’t trying to make a political statement.”

The official screening of “Burn After Reading” was preceded by “Do Visivel ao Invisivel,” a fun seven-minute short by revered 99-year-old Portuguese auteur Manoel de Oliveira that satirized cell-phone-crazed contempo life.

During the opening ceremony, de Oliveira declared the fest open with a lengthy speech paying tribute to Italian cinema that left some attendees wondering whether he would reach his century mark before finishing it.

By contrast with the first day’s frivolities, the fest also unspooled “Perfect Life,” an unannounced surprise movie by Chinese helmer Emily Tang Xiaobai about bleakness and alienation in industrialized China. Pic had previously been held hostage by Chinese censors.

The balmy evening segued into a lavish beachside dinner packed with Italo pols and Euro film execs, including Franco-Tunisian maven Tarak Ben Ammar, Warner Bros. Italy topper Paolo Ferrari and Universal Pictures Intl. production prexy Christian Grass.

The glitzy, sun-soaked opening day now gives way to a more subdued stretch, with a contingent of Asian and European arthouse fare alongside a clutch of buzzy U.S. indie titles, most of which are slotted in the second half of the fest.

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