Hollywood star George Clooney opened a star-studded Venice film festival on Wednesday with the world premiere of his political thriller "The Ides of March" based around a US presidential campaign.
Hundreds of fans crowded round as a tux-wearing Clooney, who strode down the red carpet and signed autographs after cruising the watery city on a motorboat.
A rakish-looking Clooney came to the world’s oldest film festival unaccompanied after breaking up with his Italian girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis.
He spoke to reporters earlier of his disillusionment with the US political scene and said his cynical tale was a fit for the times in the United States.
The director said he ready to begin filming in 2008 when Barack Obama won the US elections, but he was initially worried about the climate of optimism.
"Everyone was in such a good mood! It only took about a year for that to all change," he said. "At the moment, cynicism seems to be winning over idealism."
Clooney, who plays a presidential candidate in the film, denied any political ambitions of his own — or aspirations to stand for president.
"There’s a guy in the office right now who is smarter and more compassionate than anyone I know," he said of Obama, adding with a laugh: "Hollywood’s still a playground… and I get to hang around with seductive people."
Venice’s lagoon was buzzing with water taxis all day whisking stars and movie moguls to the Lido island. Clooney’s co-stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, as well as friend Cindy Crawford — a former supermodel.
The stars are headed for an exclusive party on the beach after the showing.
Clooney’s film is the first of 22 from around the world competing for the Golden Lion award in the second most prestigious film festival after Cannes.
The thriller is about a US campaign in which a loyal aide helping the Democratic governor win a primary in Ohio discovers just how dirty politics can be and it was met with general acclaim by critics at an advance screening.
At the heart of the film, Clooney said, is the question: "What you are willing to pay for power… whether you’re willing to trade your soul for it."
Based on Beau Willimon’s play, "Farragut North," the film’s screenplay, written by Clooney along with Grant Heslov and Willimon, showcases the director’s reputation for astute political commentary with a dramatic twist.
The play, inspired by Willimon’s experiences on a presidential campaign in Iowa in 2004, was the "morality play" Clooney had been looking for, he said.
The film’s cinematography plays on light and shadows, with stylistic nods to film noir and the western which echo the film’s theatrical beginnings at times, to evoke the dark underworld of politics in a fictional, current-day America.
Clooney’s slick lines as Governor Mike Morris — "integrity matters, our future depends on it" — inevitably draw comparisons with a United States weighed down by bitter political struggles between Republicans and Democrats.
The seasoned star will be hoping to bag his first Golden Lion as a director after winning best screenplay and best actor in Venice in 2005 for "Goodnight and Goodluck" but losing the Lion to Ang Lee’s "Brokeback Mountain."
Luxury hotels buzzed with fans hopeful of catching a glimpse of A-listers from Jude Law to "The Godfather" great Al Pacino and superstar Madonna.
The glamour at the opening ceremony is set to continue into Thursday with the world premieres of French-Polish director Roman Polanski’s "Carnage" and Madonna’s "W.E.", which is screening out of competition.
Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet are expected on the red carpet for "Carnage," but Polanski will not be present. Wanted in the United States for alleged sexual assault back in 1977, he risks extradition should he travel to Italy.
Screaming fans were out in force again on Thursday for the premiere of "W.E.", Madonna’s film about King Edward VIII’s romance with American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
The diva landed at Venice airport late on Wednesday evening, looking glamorous in a black outfit, with a check shirt and sunglasses, and headed for the luxury Bauer hotel on Venice’s Grand Canal.
Starring British actors James D’Arcy and Andrea Riseborough, it was two years in the making, and explores the controversial love story between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor through the eyes of a lonely modern-day New Yorker.
Singer and film director Madonna (C) arrives at Venice. (AFP Photo/Marco Sabadin)