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Cruisin’ in Venice

Fest kicks off 56th edition with 'Eyes' preem

VENICE — Art may be the order of the day, but it was pure Hollywood luster that set the tone as the curtain went up on the 56th Venice Intl. Film Festival Wednesday: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and their bodyguards jostled with crowds on the Lido for the European premiere of “Eyes Wide Shut.”

While the stars’ presence dominated events and kept the paparazzi’s strobes flashing, the fest’s opening ceremony assumed a somber note as Cruise, Kidman and other guests paid tribute to late director Stanley Kubrick.

“It’s a great honor and such an emotional experience for us to see all these people here that love Stanley Kubrick, love his films and are here to celebrate him,” Kidman said. “For both Tom and I, the experience of working with Stanley is something that will never leave us.”

“We spent a lot of time talking to Stanley about the release of the picture,” Cruise added. “He was very involved in every aspect of it, and it’s very exciting to be here with the first European audience to see this film.”

Also present to mark the occasion was the director’s widow, Christiane Kubrick, with an extended entourage of family members. “Eyes” exec producer Jan Harlan was on hand, while senior Warner brass on the Lido included Terry Semel, Edward Frumkes, Richard Fox and Jim Miller from L.A., plus London execs Julian Senior and Ivan Cheah.

During a tribute speech in which he evoked memories of being inspired by Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory,” director Bernardo Bertolucci said, “Tonight, I can call myself a true Kubrickiano, and I’m proud to be one.”

Yugoslavian filmmaker Emir Kusturica, who heads this year’s official competition jury, also paid homage to Kubrick’s work. He noted that qualities present in the director’s final film will help establish the criteria by which award winners are chosen from the 18 competing features here.

Judging by initial response here, the film looks set to divide European critics as it did reviewers in the U.S. At press showings, passionate supporters were matched by equal numbers expressing their profound dissatisfaction and disappointment with the eagerly anticipated film.

“I’ve never been in a film before that’s provoked such diverse reactions, and that’s really exciting for me as an actor,” Kidman said at the conference.

Venice audiences, unlike those in the U.S., will have even more to discuss, since “Eyes” is screening here in the complete version being released internationally. This is without the digitally imposed figures that obscure sexual couplings in the film’s much-discussed orgy scenes, which were introduced in order to avoid an NC-17 rating.

Responding to continuing speculation over the amount of changes made to the film following Kubrick’s death, Harlan confirmed that the print screening here is the final cut completed by Kubrick on March 1 and shown at that time to Cruise, Kidman and Warner execs.

While the first day of the fest was characterized mainly by solemn appreciations of Kubrick’s art, a lighter note interrupted the press conference when a kamikaze Italian TV reporter informed Cruise of his shared love for Kidman.

Blithely confirming the stereotypical view of Italians as amorous buffoons, the reporter attempted to present the actress with a flower while requesting a kiss, but was wrestled away by bodyguards. Motioning to the podium, he shouted, “She’s the queen here, she decides,” at which point Kidman graciously obliged, offering him both cheeks.