Wednesday, Sep. 03, 2008

Opening Night

On opening night, George Clooney, doing what a Hollywood star is supposed to, paused on the red carpet to flash his smile at the shouting fans across the barricade and scrawl his signature into dozens of autograph books. It is an rite of noblesse oblige that Clooney, who has a home on Lake Como, performed last year when he attended the Venice Film Festival to promote Michael Clayton. This time he's here in aid of the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading. Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand tagged along. At a press conference studded with inane questions about the stars' private lives, Pitt and Clooney were asked if they'd rather win an Oscar or spend a night in Venice with a beautiful woman. A baffled silence hung over the actors, until McDormand piped up, "I'd take the woman."

The Adriatic has been blessed with seven straight days of Adriatic sunshine, after a rainy session last year, but the star wattage of the Biennale 2008 is considerably dimmer. It could hardly compete with 2007, when The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Cassandra's Dream, I'm Not There, In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, Sleuth and the eventual Golden Lion winner, Ang Lee's Lust, Caution brought their famous directors and leading actors to the Lido. The slate of 21 films competing for the top prize includes no American movie from a major studio. So this is a festival of discovery, of panhandling for the breakthrough picture, or just for the purveyor of offbeat pleasures. After six of the festival's 11 days — and apart from Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, which shows Japanese animation genius Hayao Miyazaki in top form — the pickings have been slim. The search for masterpieces continues.