ROME — The Venice Film Festival’s 29th Critics’ Week has unveiled its lineup of nine first works, including eight world preems, featuring fresh pics from Europe, China, Vietnam, Iran, and Palestine. Just like last year, the U.S. is absent.

The independently run Venice sidebar will open with Iranian drama “Melbourne,” (pictured) starring “A Separation” protag Payman Maadi as a young man about to leave Iran for Australia with his partner, when a tragic event prevents the couple from leaving the country. Pic, screening out-of-competition,  previously bowed at Tehran’s Fajr Film Festival and was also recently at the Cannes market, sold by Iranian Independants.

The Venice Critics’ Week closer, also out-of-competish, will be Berlusconi-era dramedy “Arance e Martello,” set in multi-ethnic Rome, inspired by Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” and helmed by Italo blogger and TV personality Diego Bianchi, who is known as “Zoro.”

The other seven pics all play in competition in the section dedicated to discoveries headed by Italo film critic Francesco Di Pace.

Italy, making a strong showing, is present in competish with docu “Dancing With Maria,” about nonagenarian Argentine dance therapy guru Maria Fux. Produced by Igor Princic, who shepherded last year’s Lion of the Future winner “Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot,” pic marks the first docu ever to compete in the section.

The strong European contingent also comprises French entry “Terre Battue” (“40-Love”) by Stephane Demoustier, toplining Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, about a young boy who wants to gain admission to Gaul’s Roland Garros tennis center. Pic is co-produced by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Wagnerian drama “The Council of Birds,” by Timm Kroger, is competing from Germany.

Serbian first-timer Vuk Rsumovic is bringing “No One’s Child,” about an orphan who has an epiphany during the conflict in the Balkans.

China is repped by Xin Yukun’s multifaceted noir “The Coffin in the Mountain,” about a funeral rite in a rural Chinese area. Vietnam has what Pace called the section’s “shocker,” a Hanoi-set drama about sexual obsession, comprising a transgender character, helmed by the young emerging Nguyen Hoang Diep.

The Palestinian entry, titled “Villa Touma,” is a melodrama set in Ramallah during the early days of the Israeli occupation, directed and self-produced by Suha Arraf, who is the screenwriter of two works by Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis, “The Syrian Bride” and “Lemon Tree.”

As is customary, Venice Critics’ Week films will be judged by votes cast by festgoers rather than a jury.

All entries will compete alongside titles in the official selection for the fest’s Golden Lion of the Future, worth $100,000.

For the second consecutive year the Euros 5,000 ($6,700) audience award is sponsored by vintage art cinema distributor Raro Video.

Venice fest runs Aug. 27 to Sept. 6. The official selection lineup will be announced on July 24.