Change, ‘Dust’ fill air at Venice

Balkan pic opens new-look fest

VENICE — In what stands to be a transitional year for the world’s oldest movie celebration, the 58th Venice Intl. Film Festival gets under way tonight with the world premiere of Milcho Manchevski’s Balkan Western “Dust,” starring Joseph Fiennes, David Wenham and Adrian Lester.

Screening marks the first time since 1994 — when Michael Radford’s Italian drama “Il Postino” bowed in Venice — that a major U.S. feature has not occupied the opening-night slot.

It also marks a return to the Lido for Macedonian director Manchevski, who won Venice’s top honor, the Golden Lion, for his Oscar-nominated 1994 debut, “Before the Rain.”

Unspooling out of competition, “Dust” is a British-German-Italian-Macedonian co-production. Set between present-day New York and the early 20th century during the first Balkan war, it centers on two brothers in love with the same woman.

All eyes on fest

Fest pundits will be closely assessing the success of event chief Alberto Barbera’s new double-competition formula, designed to spread media and critical attention more evenly throughout the program.

For the first time, alongside the traditional competition (this year known as Venezia 58), which is dominated by established auteurs and classical filmmaking styles, a parallel competitive lineup will run, dubbed Cinema of the Present, showcasing riskier, edgier fare, the majority of it by emerging talent.

Each competition will be judged by a separate jury. The Venezia 58 panel is headed by Italian actor-director-producer Nanni Moretti, who won this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes for “The Son’s Room,” while the Cinema of the Present jury of international film critics is topped by Japanese Cahiers du Cinema scribe Shiguehiko Hasumi.

Eagerly anticipated highlights from the Venezia 58 lineup include “Behind the Sun,” from “Central Station” helmer Walter Salles; Mira Nair’s New Delhi tale “Monsoon Wedding”; and Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic’s English-language “How Harry Became a Tree.”

Also expected to come under the acquisitions radar is Clare Peploe’s period piece “The Triumph of Love,” which marks the first producing credit in 20 years for the director’s husband, Bernardo Bertolucci. The Marivaux adaptation stars Mira Sorvino, due in Venice for the premiere.

Tipped for attention in the Cinema of the Present competish are Laurent Cantet’s “Time Out,” which follows the French director’s critical breakthrough with “Human Resources”; Werner Herzog’s 1930s-set “Invincible,” with Tim Roth; and U.S. director Jill Sprecher’s “13 Conversations About One Thing,” starring Matthew McConaughey and John Turturro, both of whom will be in Venice.

Sans Spielberg

One of the disappointments to fest organizers is the no-show of Steven Spielberg for the European premiere of Warner and DreamWorks’ “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” Reportedly busy in post on “Minority Report,” Spielberg has nixed appearances at the Venice and Deauville fests.

Warner will be well represented, however, with star power on hand thanks to Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, accompanied by Uma Thurman, who make the trip for the world preem of Antoine Fuqua’s “Training Day.”

Other stars expected in Venice include Helen Hunt and Charlize Theron for Woody Allen’s “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” and Johnny Depp and Heather Graham for Fox’s “From Hell,” directed by Albert and Allen Hughes. Elizabeth Taylor will add some traditional Hollywood glamour, flying in to chair an Amfar Cinema Against AIDS event Friday, while Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas are due for a Red Cross gala dinner Tuesday.

Rare Rohmer visit

Barbera makes no secret of the fact that the key event for him will be the arrival of French auteur Eric Rohmer, making a rare personal appearance to receive the Golden Lion for career achievement during the Sept. 8 closing ceremony and to present his digitally shot feature “The Lady and the Duke,” which Sony Pictures Classics will release in the U.S.

“The Golden Lion to Rohmer is what I’m most proud of in Venice this year,” Barbera said. “… Rohmer has won many prizes in festivals all over the world, but until now, has never accepted invitations to receive them personally, so this is an exceptional event.”

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