Darren Aronofsky Kicks Off Venice Film Festival With Off-Color Joke

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VENICE -- The Venice Film Festival got underway for the 68th time Wednesday with the well-received world premiere of the George Clooney political thriller Ides of March and an off-color joke from jury president Darren Aronofsky that may have left Clooney squirming in his seat.

Venice biennale president Paolo Baratta said the opening ceremony doubled as a second dedication for the festival's central venue, the Palazzo del Cinema. Baratta gave a brief history of the venue, which was first opened in the 1930s and received a significant facelift in recent months.

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Aronofsky, whose film Black Swan opened the festival a year ago, returned this year as jury president. In his remarks after the jury was announced, Aronofsky gave Clooney his own history lesson about the seat Clooney occupied, which is reserved for the director of the festival's opening night film.

"Let's just say you should be happy this building has been refurbished," Aronofsky said. "Last year, I sat there between Natalie Portman and the president of Italy, and I think I peed in my pants. But they say the place has been redone, so I guess any humidity you feel there is your own."

Earlier in the day, Clooney said Ides of March, which he co-wrote, co-produced, directed and starred in, helps illustrate the "seductive" qualities of politics, though he said the notion of running for office was not seductive for him.

"I have a great job," Clooney said, then gesturing at co-stars Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, and Paul Giamatti, he continued, "I get to hang out with a lot of seductive people."

"I have no personal interest in becoming involved in politics," said Clooney, who is an outspoken left-wing voice in the U.S., from campaigning against the war in Iraq, against the genocide in Darfur, and in active support for U.S. President Barak Obama. But he denied Ides of March was a criticism of government.

"I don't think of this as a political film," he said. "It's a film about morality, about trading your soul for a specific outcome."

The film is the first to screen of the 23 vying for Venice's prestigious Golden Lion award, the festival's top prize. All but one of the candidates has been named, with the final film expected to be unveiled in the next several days.

Among other A-list talents to arrive in Venice on the opening day were singer-turned-director Madonna, Kate Winslet, Vincent Cassel, and director Jonathan Demme.

The festival runs through Sept. 10.

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