Al Pacino and a Brazilian bash on the Piazza Navona kicked off the third Rome Film Festival on Wednesday amid hopes the event will boost the Italian industry and consolidate Rome’s standing as a small but indispensable European movie mart.

Pacino was awarded Rome’s Marcus Aurelius lifetime achievement nod as part of the fest’s tribute to the Actors Studio in New York, of which the South Bronx-born thesp is president.

“It’s getting harder for me to put a shirt and tie on,” a darkly clad Pacino joked before accepting the statuette. He called the award “a good reminder of my work and the fact that there are things I’ve done.”

Musing about the legacy of the Actors Studio and its late artistic director Lee Strasberg, Pacino philosophized about the acting profession.

“Acting is an opportunity to talk about how you really feel about things. You can’t really do that in life that much — and have friends,” he said.

Pacino was further feted at a dinner party thrown by Rome’s French Academy in the 16th century Villa Medici, where he mingled with thesps including Mickey Rourke and Willem Dafoe plus helmers Gus Van Sant, Jane Campion and David Cronenberg. The large contingent of Italo industry honchos included Medusa chief Giampaolo Letta, Lucky Red topper Andrea Occhipinti and producer Domenico Procacci.

Meanwhile, in the Piazza Navona, the site of a circus in ancient Rome, dozens of dancers, singers and drummers brought the Brazilian vibe to a pulsating “Be Brazilian!” party attended by thousands of Romans.

Choreographed by multitasking musician Arto Lindsay, the bash opened Rome’s Focus on Brazil sidebar and featured live sets by Spok Frevo Orquestra, Ile Aye and Vanessa da Mata.

The business side of the fest’s Focus on Brazil is that Italy and Brazil will renew their co-production treaty on Thursday and the Rome Lazio Film Commission will ink a production pact Friday with the cultural office of the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, which is Brazil’s economic locomotive.

As for movies, fest pics start unspooling today, when Monica Bellucci will inaugurate the Rome Auditorium’s red carpet for Italo romancer “The Man Who Loves.” That will be followed by omnibus pic “8,” comprising shorts by Campion, Van Sant and Wim Wenders about the United Nations’ eight millennium development goals, which range from fighting poverty to halting the spread of AIDS.

Meanwhile, in a clear sign Romans are still enthused by the fest despite the lower Hollywood star quotient, advance ticket sales are up by 8,000 to 38,000. The fastest to go so far have been tickets for a 15-minute world preem preview of Catherine Hardwicke’s vampire pic “Twilight” with Hardwicke and stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in tow.

On Wednesday, industryites began collecting their badges at the Rome Film Festival’s Business Street mart on the Via Veneto, where some 600 industryites are booked, including 200 international buyers.

“I am very happy to have the same number of people here as last year, considering the drop-off in Venice and Toronto and the fact so many Europeans won’t be going to the AFM this year,” said Rome mart manager Sylvain Azou.

“People are coming to Rome thinking, ‘It’s the last chance I have this year to buy something or sell something — in Europe, at least.’ ”