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Hollywood stars set for Venice fest

ROME -- Star wattage is set to dazzle at this year's upcoming Venice International Film Festival, as event director Moritz de Hadeln Thursday unveiled a lineup that includes several major Hollywood pictures.

But this year's competition roll call for the grand dame of international festivals is light on American titles with only two of the 20 entries coming from the U.S.

"Unfortunately American films are mostly showing out of competition. Often they don't want to risk it because they fear they might not win first place," said de Hadeln, who is directing the festival for the second time.

One U.S. title battling it out for the festival's Golden Lion prize is Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "21 Grams", which stars Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts. The Universal Pictures-backed movie details the story of a critically ill mathematician, a grieving mother and a born-again ex-con.

Los Angeles- and London-based Myriad Pictures' "Imagining Argentina," directed by Christopher Hampton and starring Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson, will also challenge.

Myriad president Kirk D'Amico said: "Christopher Hampton has managed to create an extraordinary and important film about Argentina's [so called] 'Dirty War' in the 1970s which especially resonates in these times. With Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson set to join us all in Venice to launch the worldwide theatrical release of the film, we are delighted to bring 'Imagining Argentina' to this prestigious festival."

Another English-language competition entry vying to capture a Lion is British director Michael Winterbottom's "Code 46." Produced by Winterbottom's business partner Andrew Eaton under the duo's banner Revolution Films, the movie is backed by Pathe and United Artists.

Starring Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton and Om Puri, the movie is billed as a "futuristic version" of the David Lean directed classic black and white movie "Brief Encounter."

Other competition slots in the European dominated section go to Italian veteran director Marco Bellocchio's "Buongiomo, Notte" (Good Morning, Night) and French helmer Bruno Dumont's "Twentynine Palms." France's Amos Gitai's "Alilia, "Segreti di Stato," (State Secret) directed by Italy's Paolo Benvenuti also secure slots. There are also pictures from Lebanese director Randa Chahalsabbag ("Le Cerf-Volant") (The Kite) and Serbian director Srdjan Karanovic ("Sjaj U Ocima") (Loving Glances).

"There is a strong European presence, which just shows that there is something extraordinary going on in European cinema," de Hadeln said.

Asian cinema, hit by the SARS virus, has a lower profile this year, but Japanese director Takeshi Kitano will be on hand with "Zatoichi."

Studio-backed features dominate the 10 titles in the out of competition lineup. The Coen brothers are rushing "Intolerable Cruelty" featuring George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Bob Thornton and Geoffrey Rush to the Lido. Festival organizers said they were pleased to secure the movie, backed by Universal Pictures, although it is still a work in progress.

Nicole Kidman, Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris will strut their stuff across the Lagoon in Robert Benton's "The Human Stain," for Miramax Films.

Meanwhile, with director Ridley Scott being unavailable because of other commitments, Warner Bros' "Matchstick Men" will be presented to festivalgoers by its star Nicolas Cage.

Robert Rodriguez's "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," with Antonio Banderas Johnny Depp and Willem Foe, will also unspool in an out of competition slot.

Woody Allen's new comedy "Anything Else" will kick off the proceedings August 27 with Allen and co-stars Christina Ricci, Danny DeVito and Jason Biggs all expected to stroll up the red carpet for its out-of-competition showing.

"Never before has the festival received so many offers," de Hadeln said at a packed news conference in Rome's Excelsior hotel Thursday. "The miracle this year has been that we have been able to put together a final selection by today."

Other notable appearances on the Lido during Venice's 11-day run include Bernardo Bertolucci's Paris-set drama "The Dreamers" with Michael Pitt, Louis Garrel, Eva Green and Jean-Pierre Leaud.

Produced by Oscar-winning British producer Jeremy Thomas, the picture details the story of a young American living in Paris during the student uprisings at the end of the 1960s.

James Ivory's "Le Divorce," starring Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts and Glenn Close, and Jim Jarmush's "Coffee And Cigarettes," with an eclectic cast including Roberto Benigni, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, also appear in out of competition slots.

Stephen Norrington's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," with Sean Connery and Stuart Townsend and "Monsieur Ibrahim Et Les Fleurs Du Coran," directed by France's Francois Dupeyron also secure Lido time.

(Reuters reporter Shasta Darlington reported from Rome and Stuart Kemp reported from London.)



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