The 65th Venice Film Festival gets under way today, with the premiere of a film starring heartthrobs George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
This year sees the Italian event dominated by European films, following the US writers’ strike.
But Hollywood glamour will be added to proceedings, with the opening film 'Burn After Reading', the latest offering from Joel and Ethan Coen.
Showing out of competition, the film stars John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton as well as Clooney and father-of-two newborn twins Pitt.
The film sees a CIA analyst named Osborne Cox (Malkovich) attend a top secret meeting, only to find the secret is he is being ousted.
His wife Katie (Swinton) is having an affair with a married federal marshal named Harry Pfarrer (Clooney) and she sets about making plans to leave her husband for him.
Pitt plays Chad Feldheimer, who accidentally obtains material for Cox’s memoirs on a computer disc and is intent on trying to exploit the find.
The 21 movies competing this year for the coveted Golden Lion include five films completely in the English language, all US productions.
They include 'The Hurt Locker', inspired by a journalist’s experiences in Iraq, with Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce in the cast.
The film is described as an intense portrayal of elite soldiers who have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, disarming bombs in the heat of combat.
From Californian film maker Kathryn Bigelow, the movie is based on first-hand observation by a journalist and screenwriter named Mark Boal who was stationed on an assignment with a special bomb unit.
Bigelow said in her director’s statement that she was “shocked” to learn men use “little more than a pair of pliers” to disarm a bomb that can kill within a radius of 300 metres.
She said: “When I learned that these men volunteer for this dangerous work, and often grow so fond of it that they can imagine doing nothing else, I knew what my next film was going to be about.”
Other American films competing include 'The Wrestler', starring Mickey Rourke and 'The Burning Plain', a drama starring Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron.
'Rachel Getting Married', starring Anne Hathaway, also competes, as does 'Vegas: Based on a True Story', centred on the life of a compulsive gambler.
Italy and Japan feature heavily, with Japanese animation 'Gake no Ue no Ponyo' (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea) also in the competition.
A film which sees Natalie Portman make her directorial debut is also being screened during the festival.
'Eve' includes veteran actress Lauren Bacall in the cast.
The movie concerns a young woman named Kate, who visits her grandma Lola for dinner, and is surprised to find her grandma is on a date with a man named Joe.
Portman, who was on the jury at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is a Harvard University graduate, said in her director’s statement: “I’ve always had a fascination with the older generation, particularly those who are not at ease with the ageing process.”
Influential German film director Wim Wenders is the president of the Venezia 65 jury.
The festival is often viewed as a precursor to the Oscars.
Dame Helen Mirren won an Academy Award after winning a best actress prize at Venice for 'The Queen'.