Belgian helmer Jaco Van Dormael’s “Mr. Nobody,” which unspools in the Venice competition today, is about as big-budget as it gets for a European pic, especially one by an auteur.

The E37 million ($53 million) long-in-gestation English-language pic is set in the late 21st century. Jared Leto stars as a 120-year-old man who, on his deathbed, imagines alternate lives he could have led with three different women. It certainly constitutes a bold attempt to do something different in European cinema, both conceptually and from a production standpoint.

“If I had not been prepared to put up a large portion of the money myself, this project would have stayed on the shelf,” said producer Philippe Godeau. Then Pathe and Wild Bunch came onboard. With Leto, Sarah Polley and Diane Kruger attached, the six-month shoot began in June 2007 in Belgium, Canada and Germany. More than a year in editing and post followed, partly due to plenty of effects, but also to other factors.

An earlier, longer, work-in-progress version of the film was rejected for competition by Cannes, which offered that cut of “Mr. Nobody” a out-of-competition berth. Godeau turned that down.

The Venice version is a “wet-print final cut which we are really happy with,” he says.

For Van Dormael, the former circus clown and children’s theater director who became a hot helmer after his 1991 hit debut “Toto The Hero,” “Mr. Nobody” comes after a 13-year hiatus from “Toto” followup “The Eighth Day.”

“I spent a long time writing,” he said. “This is a very complex film, and also I have to say I enjoyed the writing process because it is compatible with my family life.”

Van Dormael was adamant about the fact that “Mr. Nobody” not be considered a sci-fi pic. Rather, it is “a film about the “many possibilities that are inherent in our lives; about choice, chance and the complexities of their interaction.”

As for the challenge posed by his first foray directing an English-language pic, Van Dormael said that, being from Belgium — where Flemish, French and German are all spoken — he is “used to changing languages.” He has been familiar with English from an early age since his father was a buyer in Europe for Sears, Roebuck.