Venice opens with sentimental Sicily drama

Wed Sep 2, 2009 4:41pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

VENICE (Reuters) - The Venice film festival opened on Wednesday with big-budget Italian movie "Baaria," a sentimental sweep through 20th century Sicily taking in Fascism, war, Communism and the mafia.

Billed as one of Italy's most expensive movies costing 25 million euros ($36 million), the first home-made film to open Venice for around 20 years kicked off 11 days of screenings, photo shoots, parties and red carpet glamour on the Lido island.

Director Giuseppe Tornatore, whose 1988 movie "Cinema Paradiso" won a foreign film Oscar, said the story of a poor family living through the upheaval of the last century was partly based on his own memories of life in Sicily.

He told reporters ahead of the official evening premiere that he wanted to use his birthplace as a microcosm of what was happening in the wider world.

"It might be any other place," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "The idea was not to tell the story of Sicily. The idea was to tell the story of a number of characters in the microcosm of a small town, hearing the echoes of what was happening around the town and far from that town."

And so Peppino, the central character played by Francesco Scianna, joins the Communist movement, travels to the Soviet Union where he sees first hand what it really means for citizens there and lives briefly in France seeking work.

But Sicily's passionate people also play a prominent part in a sumptuously shot film set amid olive groves, rugged hills and the ever-changing streets of Baaria.

Actress Eva Mendes and director Ang Lee, who is president of the jury in Venice, walked along the opening night red carpet, cheered on by hundreds of fans.   Continued...

<p>Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta poses on the beach during a photocall at the 66th Venice Film Festival, September 1, 2009. Cucinotta will inaugurate the international festival from the stage of the Cinema's Palace of Venice. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>