‘Frida’ fans fire up fest

Pic adds glitz, glamour, glut to Venice opening

VENICE — Italian left-wing politicos got the last laugh Thursday night as the 59th Venice Intl. Film Festival opened with “Frida.”

Star-studded, Miramax-produced pic is about a love triangle between three communists — painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and exile Leon Trotsky, whom the couple harbored outside Mexico City. But Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition, which this year ousted most of the fest and Biennale officials put in place by the previous liberal government, also got what they wanted: more glitz, more stars and more high-profile American movies.

No Italian political contingent showed up at the Palazzo del Cinema to support Moritz de Hadeln’s debut as fest director. The only Berlusconi buddies who walked the red carpet were Gabriella Carlucci, the popular ex-TV presenter who’s now part of the ministry, and recently ousted undersecretary of culture Vittorio Sgarbi.

But Gwyneth Paltrow wowed gawkers, dressed in a transparent beaded Valentino gown and accompanied by the designer, who pulled into town on his 150-foot yacht.

Sophia Loren, decked out in jewels and a hot-pink Giorgio Armani gown, made a regal entrance on the arm of her helmer son, Edoardo Ponti, whose “Between Strangers,” starring Loren and Gerard Depardieu, screens in competition.

Miramax contingent

Harvey Weinstein and lieutenant Rick Sands led the Miramax band: Salma Hayek, who plays Kahlo, Valeria Golina and Alfred Molina, who plays Rivera.

“The film is great,” Hayek gushed when she stopped to chat with journalists, “but not nearly as great as the experience of making it.”

Jury president Gong Li and supermodel Heidi Klum added glamour; Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, dressed in a mish-mash of colorful plaids, added eccentricity; and Upstream sidebar jury member director Catherine Breillat (“Romance”) added edginess.

Strangely, with all the talk about making the fest more international, the opening ceremony, hosted by Italo TV personality-journalist Guido Barendon, was not translated into English. Had it been, though, it might have gone on forever.

Franco Bernabe, the independent-minded Telecom Italia CEO who replaced Paolo Baratta as Biennale president, proved he shares Berlusconi’s ideas about making the event a less governmental affair.

“For 70 years, Venice has registered all the culminating moments of international and national cinema,” he stated. “It’s an event that’s part of Italy’s patrimony, part of the landscape. But the festival must grow and become a patrimony that belongs to everybody, and for this reason, we have begun proceeding to open the Biennale to foreign investors.”

Montages screened

Besides a presentation of the three Venice juries — competition, first film and Upstream (a bad translation of contrecorrente, meaning counter-current or films going against the mainstream) — the opening ceremony included a screening of three film montages.

One evoked the best moments of Venice past, another featured stills from films by Michelangelo Antonioni, whose entire body of work is being shown during the fest; and third was a tribute to Dino Risi, who receives a special career Golden Lion later in the week.

This year fewer Italians will be tuning in to the fest via the airwaves. Due to the dire financial situation at Canal Plus-owned Telepiu — Vivendi Universal is still negotiating its sale to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — the paybox couldn’t cough up the cash to buy exclusive rights to fest opening and closing ceremonies as it had in the past.

As a result, the shows air on RAI Sat Cinema, which goes out to only a few subscribers.

And despite all the talk of raising the fest’s profile, RAI 1, the pubcaster’s flagship channel, isn’t even airing the closing-night awards ceremony live.

Instead, it will air Sept. 8 in a latenight slot after the Miss Italia finals.