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Venice fest kicks off with a squint at Clint

Eastwood set to receive Golden Lion for career achievement

VENICE — The man with no name in an enchanted forest populated by circus acrobats and wood nymphs, dancing to the strains of Bach, modern jazz and Italo ethno-pop? That’s the scenario that awaits Clint Eastwood tonight at the gala kickoff party that follows the opening of the 57th Venice Intl. Film Festival.

The curtain goes up on the world’s oldest film fest with the European premiere of Warners’ aging-astronaut hit “Space Cowboys,” which producer-director-star Eastwood and fellow cast members Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner will attend.

Prior to the screening, Sharon Stone will take the stage to present Eastwood with Venice’s Golden Lion for career achievement.

To mark the award, a dozen key Eastwood titles will screen during the fest, including Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” in a newly restored print from Italy’s National Cinematheque. Bruce Ricker’s docu “Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows” will premiere at Venice.

Stuck to their guns

Given Italians’ indelible association between Eastwood and the Westerns of Leone, a cowboy-themed soiree may have been the obvious way to go. Instead, Venice has opted for a “Midsummer Night’s Dream” setting for the opening-night bash, transforming the grounds of the Hotel des Bains into a magical garden dotted with sculptures and elaborate tree ornaments.

The event is a collaboration among various branches of the Biennale, the arts foundation that controls the Venice fest, involving input from the dance, music and theater sectors and the participation of 70 performers.

Given that the shortage of studio product and scant presence of U.S. films in general this year has been widely reported — fest director Alberto Barbera is instead betting on new discoveries and emerging talent — the star turnout for Venice looks surprisingly high, with paparazzi unlikely to go away disappointed.

Also in town on opening night will be Richard Gere with director Robert Altman for the world premiere of “Dr. T and the Women,” unspooling in competition, and Laura Linney for Critics Week selection “You Can Count on Me.”

Others due in include Michelle Pfeiffer, Harrison Ford and Robert Zemeckis for “What Lies Beneath”; Vince Vaughn and helmer Tarsem for “The Cell”; and Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi for “U-571,” all of which screen in the fest’s late-night Dreams and Visions lineup.

Dan Minahan’s “Series 7: The Contenders” was withdrawn from the section by USA Films after its North American rights were acquired; while no announcement has yet been made, the replacement film is believed to be David Mamet’s “State and Main,” in its European preem.

Providing support for Sally Potter’s “The Man Who Cried,” which bows in competition, are stars Christina Ricci and John Turturro, with Cate Blanchett also a probable attendee if her schedule permits (she is shooting Tom Tykwer’s “Heaven” in Italy).

“Man Who Cried” cast member Johnny Depp has been forced to drop plans for a Venice visit due to the demands of night shooting in Prague on the Hughes brothers’ Jack the Ripper drama “From Hell.”

Depp appears in two competition entries; the other is artist turned director Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls,” based on the autobiography of persecuted gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, played by Spanish thesp Javier Bardem. Pic is one of the key titles in Venice waiting to secure a U.S. distribution deal.

Brush with helming

Another is “Pollock,” the directing debut of actor Ed Harris, who also plays the troubled American painter Jackson Pollock in the film, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning tome by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. Harris will be in Venice with co-star Marcia Gay Harden.

“Run Lola Run” helmer Tykwer will break from shooting on Miramax’s “Heaven” and wing into Venice this weekend with stars Franka Potente and Benno Fuhrmann to present his latest feature, “The Princess and the Warrior,” recently picked up for the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics.

Another Sony acquisition bowing out of competition over the weekend in Venice is “Brother,” a predominantly English-language gangster actioner set in Los Angeles, directed by and starring Japanese cult figure Takeshi Kitano, who won the Venice fest’s Golden Lion in 1997 with “Hana-bi” (Fireworks).

Venice fest runs through Sept. 9.

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