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Venice Film Festival Opens

The 75th festival unveils "Atonement," starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy.

By Colleen Barry

Associated Press Writer

August 29, 2007

VENICE, Italy

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The Venice Film Festival opens its 75th anniversary edition Wednesday with an all-world premiere competition for the coveted Golden Lion, a cascade of stars such as George Clooney and Keira Knightley, and its share of international controversy.

In their constant search for new talent and cinematic trends, the organizers of the world's oldest running film festival reached out to young directors this year.

Opening the 11-day festival is "Atonement," the screen adaptation of Ian McEwan's best-selling novel, starring Knightley and James McAvoy and directed by 35-year-old Joe Wright. Venice closes Sept. 8 with the Hong Kong-Taiwanese gangster-thriller "Blood Brothers" by first-time director Alexi Tan.

But some Venice veterans will be making a return, including Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, who, two years after previewing "Brokeback Mountain" at the festival, returns with "Lust, Caution," a Chinese-language spy-thriller set in World War II.

Venice always courts debate. This year, it has centered around the organizers' notation of Lee's film as originating from "Taiwan, China." Taiwan complained that the label suggests the self-ruled island is part of mainland China.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing still considers self-ruled Taiwan as its territory and has threatened to retake it by force. Taiwanese officials blamed China for the notation.

The film festival press office told The Associated Press that they list the countries as given by the production house.

This year's lineup boasts some of the most eagerly anticipated new films of the fall film season -- many making their world premieres. More than 90 percent of the 57 featured films and all of the 22 films competing for the Golden Lion are premieres.

Under director Marco Mueller, who took over four years ago, the festival also has earned a reputation for spawning major award contenders: Films launched at Venice over the last three years have garnered 51 Oscar nominations.

This year's selection is heavily weighted toward Anglo-American productions with an unprecedented seven English-language films. Mueller has been criticized for being under Hollywood's sway, but he has said that some of the strongest films were emerging from the English language world, often grappling with politics and war.

The themes are expressed in Brian De Palma's "Redacted," a series of stories about U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and Paul Haggis' "In the Valley of Elah," which tells the tale of an Iraq war veteran gone missing after his return from a tour of duty.

Also vying for the top prize at Venice are "Michael Clayton," starring George Clooney in a legal drama about a corporate firm battling a class-action lawsuit and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," starring Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck and Sam Shepherd.

Woody Allen premieres his "Cassandra's Dream," which is showing out of competition. Starring Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, it tells the story of two brothers -- one a chronic gambler and another in love with a beautiful actress -- who try to improve their lives and become entangled in a sinister situation.

Kenneth Branagh is presenting a remake of the 1972 film "Sleuth," with Michael Caine appearing this time as a wealthy writer engaged in a battle of wits with a young actor having an affair with his wife. Jude Law reprises Caine's earlier role as the younger man.

Asia is as always well-represented in Venice, with four movies in the main competition.

Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike will be showing his "Sukiyaki Western Django," a Japanese interpretation of the Italian Spaghetti Western of the 1960s and 1970s starring Quentin Tarantino -- a complement to the Spaghetti Western retrospective being held on the festival sidelines.

American director Tim Burton will be presented with a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement by Johnny Depp, who started in such Burton creations as "Edward Scissorhands."

While the Venice festival celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is the 64th edition of the festival, which was periodically canceled due to war and other reasons.

The Golden Lion will be presented in a gala ceremony on Sept. 8.