VENICE - The Venice film festival kicked off Wednesday with the arrival of international stars for a fortnight dominated by art house tales of war, poetry and the mafia.
Tim Roth of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" fame could be seen relaxing ahead of the opening night's red carpet, where he is expected to dazzle alongside Emma Stone ("Easy A!") and a boyish looking Edward Norton ("American History X").
The first flick to take the stage at the world's oldest film festival will be Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance", starring Michael Keaton, who starred in "Beetlejuice" and two "Batman" films.
Other hotly-awaited world premieres include "Good Kill" by New Zealand's Andrew Niccol, starring Ethan Hawke as a drone operator in Afghanistan, and David Gordon Green's "Manglehorn" with Al Pacino as an ex-con turned locksmith with a broken heart.
French film composer Alexandre Desplat -- whose dozens of works include the scores for "The King's Speech" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" -- is heading up the main jury at the festival, which runs until September 6.
'Have some fun'
Desplat denied suggestions that being the first non-actor or director to head up the jury would be a hinderance, saying he had worked with some of the best directors today.
"We are not here to be daring or audacious but discover new worlds, films, subject, faces -- and hopefully have fun, too," he said.
Desplat was among the cinema luminaries quaffing prosecco at the festival's opening party on a roof terrace near Saint Mark's Square in the floating city Tuesday, inaugurating two weeks of glamorous beach galas and red-carpet ceremonies.
Festival director Alberto Barbera brushed off criticisms that this year's edition was light on Hollywood stars, saying the aim of the organisers had been to create space for high-quality, innovative flicks which risk falling through the cracks.
"I have nothing against glamour, but it cannot be the only component in a festival. The idea is to explore cinema today in all its complexities," he said.
He said two directors who had been expected at the festival were unable to make it because they had been imprisoned -- Iran's Mohammadi Mahnaz and Ukraine's Oleh Sentsov, charged respectively for propaganda against the regime and a "terrorist" plot -- and called for their swift release.
The festival is bringing a new generation of artists to the Lido this year with its first edition of a gap-financing market -- which matches young producers in need of funds with investors and distributors -- as well as Final Cut, which showcases finished films from Africa and the Middle East to buyers.
There is buzz from critics already over the only first feature competing for the Lion, "Sivas" by Turkey's Kaan Mujdeci, about a young boy who befriends a dog he saves in a bid to protect himself from a violent society.
American Ramin Bahrani looks at the fallout of the economic crisis with his drama "99 Homes" about a father trying to recover his house after an eviction, while Russia's Andrei Konchalovsky dwells on loneliness in "The Postman's White Nights".
The only documentary in competition is "The Look of Silence", Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up to his acclaimed 2012 "The Act of Killing", which this time sees Indonesian genocide survivors confront the killers of their brother.
Out-of-competition slots have gone to US director Peter Bogdanovich's "She's Funny That Way", a comedy starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, as well as American Lisa Cholodenko's four-part HBO series "Olive Kitteridge", starring Bill Murray, and pulp master Joe Dante's horror comedy "Burying the Ex".
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