Woody wows lethargic Lido

Venice bows fest as helmer shows appreciation

VENICE — A standing ovation and some succinct, witty comments from Woody Allen mercifully brought to a close Wednesday a late, lethargic and long-winded ceremony kicking off the 60th Venice Intl. Film Festival.

“This is a very exciting event for me,” Allen said. “Last year I went to Cannes, which was the first film festival I ever went to, and now Venice.

“These are the two great film festivals, the two festivals that when I was growing up were the most romantic and glamorous and exciting for me,” he said.

Allen took the stage for a rare personal presentation of his new comedy, “Anything Else,” which DreamWorks will release in the U.S. On hand for the premiere were co-stars Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci, producer Letty Aronson and the director’s wife Soon-Yi.

“I’m usually not a festival person, but the Italians, like the French, have been very supportive of my movies, so I wanted to give something back as a gesture of gratitude,” Allen continued. “If you’ve seen my movies, you know I’ve stolen shamelessly from so many Italian directors like Fellini, De Sica and Antonioni.”

Allen arrived late on the elaborate new blue-carpeted entry platform into the Palazzo del Cinema. The director looked overwhelmed by the phalanx of vocal paparazzi.

Prior to the presentation, the ceremony consisted of a lengthy memory-lane montage of the Venice fest’s 60-year history, followed by painstaking introductions of each of the three competition juries.

Main jury prexy Mario Monicelli recalled attending the first edition of Venice in 1934 and winning the Golden Lion in 1960 for “The Great War.”

Departing from the long-ingrained Venice tradition of kicking off with controversy, the fest got under way this year with relatively little fuss.

“Things are off to a good start this year,” said Franco Bernabe, president of the Biennale arts council that controls the fest. “There have been no problems. We’ve been able to work in a tranquil climate, and the atmosphere around the festival is one of vitality for Italian and international cinema.”

“We must not forget that film is above all an industry that gives work to thousands of people, and we wanted to dedicate a particular space in this year’s festival to those people and to one of the greatest Italian producers by giving a Golden Lion career award to Dino De Laurentiis,” Bernabe added.

That award will be presented Monday by Bernardo Bertolucci prior to the premiere of the latter’s feature “The Dreamers,” out of competition.

The fest’s second Golden Lion for career achievement will be presented Friday to veteran actor Omar Sharif.

“It seems important to award this prize not only to one of the world’s most talented actors but also to one from the Arab world, especially in these turbulent times,” Venice fest artistic director Moritz de Hadeln said.

“Let’s hope this serves as a sign of peace,” de Hadeln added.

Attendees at the opening included director Robert Rodriguez and Salma Hayek, in town for the premiere tonight of “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” and for a special kids gala of “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.” Also on hand were Miramax chief operating officer Rick Sands and exec VP Stuart Ford.

Other guests included Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, whose comedy “Le Divorce” from Fox Searchlight gets its European premiere here Sunday.

While De Hadeln has reupped his contract to head Venice a second time exclusively for the current edition, word is circulating that the former Berlin fest chief will sign on for what will become a four-year mandate.

However, this probability did not deter De Hadeln — who has frequently been vocal in his criticism of the Biennale — from making Bernabe squirm during the opening ceremony.

“Thank you for the trust you have placed in me during these two years,” De Hadeln said. “I know you tremble every time I open my mouth with fear that I’ll say things I shouldn’t say, but we will survive.”