Venice Fest Opens With 'Balkan Western'

VENICE, Italy — The Venice Film Festival, the world's oldest film fest, opens its 58th edition tonight with one of the bloodiest, most violent "westerns" since the era of Sam Peckinpah. Dust — which stars Joseph Fiennes and Aussie David Wenham as Cain-and-Abel-like brothers at the turn of the last century — is being billed as a "Balkan western" from Milcho Manchevski, who swept the 1994 festival with Before the Rain.

The shootouts in Dust are not in the American West but in Macedonia, during the period when the country fought for independence from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The story is told by a dying woman in present-day Manhattan, N.Y., to the thuggish burglar (Adrian Lester of Primary Colors) she holds hostage in her apartment.

At a morning press conference, Britain's distinguished film critic Alexander Walker, of the Evening Standard, accused Manchevski of making a "racist" film that smears both the Turks — whom he said the film portrayed as "gibbering apes" — and American cowboys, who are shown as motivated only by greed. Manchevski refused to answer, pointedly thanking the critic for his "comment" and saying nothing else. The film does not yet have a U.S. distributor.

From Hell, Training Day Among World Premieres Maybe that punt and jab is a foreshadowing of what promises to be an interesting showcase of world cinema through Sept. 8. Among the stars expected to attend the world premieres of their films are Johnny Depp and Heather Graham for From Hell, a Jack the Ripper drama; Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke for Training Day; and David Mamet, Gene Hackman, and Danny DeVito for Heist.

Nicole Kidman will be here for the European launch of her U.S. hit The Others but will not stay for the premiere of Birthday Girl, which opens in the States next year. Mira Sorvino is due for the comedic Triumph of Love with that sexy beast, Ben Kingsley.

Scorsese Presents, Spielberg Sends His Regrets Martin Scorsese will attend, not with his eagerly anticipated Gangs of New York, which is due at Christmas, but to showcase two early American movies that reflect Italian-American connections.

Another '70s survivor, Peter Fonda, brings his 1970s cult western, The Hired Hand, to the festival.

Steven Spielberg's controversial A.I.: Artificial Intelligence screens out of competition. Spielberg was to have come to Venice but bowed out, pleading post-production work on the just-wrapped Minority Report.

Only two American films are competing for the Gold Lion, the Festival's top prize: Larry Clark's Bully, a real-life horror story of teen sex, drugs, and murder in sunny Florida that opened in limited release in the U.S. in July, and Richard Linklater's offbeat, animated Waking Life, which was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival and opens in the United States in October.