VENICE (Reuters) - Oscar winners Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron play mother and daughter in "The Burning Plain," an intense story of love and betrayal and the directorial debut by acclaimed Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga.
The film is the first of five U.S. entries to appear in the main competition at the Venice film festival, and was warmly applauded by critics and journalists on Friday at a press screening ahead of its red carpet world premiere.
Arriaga is best known for his scripts that include well received dramas "Amores perros," "21 Grams" and "Babel," for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.
Based on his description of his first outing behind the camera, it would appear Arriaga will be directing again.
"I enjoyed every single moment of it," he told reporters, speaking in English.
"I can tell you that directing was maybe the happiest moment of my professional life. Just arriving on set I had a smile ... and it hasn't vanished until now."
The converging strands and time jumps in "The Burning Plain," which Arriaga also wrote, are his trademarks.
"We never in real life tell stories in a linear way," Arriaga said. "We tell it always in a decomposed way.
"I think that cinema is a very young medium and it's beginning to find its own language and among these languages is the deconstruction of time."
Producer Walter Parkes said Arriaga had "changed the way motion picture stories are told."
As well as time, the film explores the elements -- each storyline represents either earth, air, fire or water, and the landscape jumps from arid desert and brutal sunshine to swelling seas and rain-filled coastal skies.
It also deals with death.
"I have been obsessed with the weight of death over the living ones," said the 50-year-old director.
"My identity is constructed by the people that I love, by the people that surround me. Every time one dies, part of my identity is broken and lost. I am obsessed at how that loss of someone that I love affects my own identity."
Theron, who plays the emotionally-scarred Sylvia in "The Burning Plain," was also a producer on the film as she was on "Monster" for which she won a best actress Oscar.
"I'm fascinated by how this industry survives, how it struggles," the 33-year-old said.
"I don't have to do it every time, but it's something that I really enjoy when I feel I meet people where we're like-minded and we walk the same road and tell the same story."
Basinger, 54, was not at the press conference in Venice, but Theron said her age brought a new dimension to her acting.
"There's a strength," said Theron. "Especially, I think now in her age more than when she was working in her 30s, there's a strength with this leftover vulnerability from her 20s that's just unbelievably beautiful to watch."
Other U.S. films in competition in Venice include "Rachel Getting Married," directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme and starring Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger, and "The Wrestler" with Mickey Rourke and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Kathryn Bigelow also presents Iraq war drama "The Hurt Locker."
Editing by Matthew Jones