The seventh Rome Film Festival bows in arthouse mode with Russian epic “Waiting for the Sea,” the magic realist ode to man’s will to resist, serving as a fitting analogy to new fest topper Marco Mueller’s plight as he came under fire from the Italian press for turning the event into an overly elitist affair.

Tajik helmer Bakhtiar Khudojnazarov’s big-budget fable, starring Russian model Anastasia Mikulchina, stage thesp Egor Beroev and German actor Detlev Buck, drew a mixed response at the press screening. Pic unspooled out-of-competition.

“Waiting” helmer, producer Karl Baumgartner and the cast walked Rome’s red carpet, which is flanked this year by historic Cinecitta Studios setpieces, including an Egyptian god from Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “Cleopatra” and a Greco-Roman statue from Ridley Scott’s “The Gladiator.”

Meanwhile, the former Venice topper was criticized by leading daily Corriere Della Sera and other local outlets for choosing to “change the (Rome) festival and not himself,” as Corriere put it in an editorial titled “Testing ground for elitist choices,” which noted that from its outset Rome has had a more mainstream focus than the Lido.

Mueller defended his diversly assorted lineup at Rome’s opening press conference.

“It’s a contradictory selection full of many different aspects (of moviemaking). I don’t see us being less mainstream than in the past,” he said.

“We have Hollywood movies; we have very accessible genre movies. It’s a festival in which different types of films try to have a dialogue with each other.”

In contrast with Mueller’s arty choice for an opener, the competish kicked of with gory Japanese chiller “Lesson of Evil,” about a psychopathic teacher who starts killing his students.

The CinemaXXI section, dedicated to cutting-edge cinema, bowed with New York No Wave maverick Amos Poe’s “A Walk in the Park.”

Gallic toon “The Little Prince,” adapted for TV in 3D by Pierre Alain Chartier, world-preemed in the independantly run Alice in City kiddie section.

Upcoming world-preems include Walter Hill’s actioner “Bullett to the Head,” toplining Sylvester Stallone, Roman Coppola’s”A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” starring Charlie Sheen, and Alan and Gabe Polsky’s “The Motel Life.”

Rome’s Business Street mart will run Nov. 14-18, ending a day after the fest wraps.