'Baaria' kicks off Venice Film Festival

Director Giuseppe Tornatore hailed by Silvio Berlusconi

VENICE -- The 66th edition of the Venice Film Festival got underway Wednesday with an epic and sentimental homage to the Sicilian Oscar-winning director Giuseppe Tornatore and a gala ceremony hosted by Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta.
With its screening, Tornatore's "Baaria" became the first Italian film to open the storied Venice festival in nearly a quarter century, and it caused ripples even before its official world premiere: earlier in the day Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- who also owns the country's largest media empire -- called the work a masterpiece and said that no "real" Italian should choose not to see the film.
In a press briefing, Tornatore, best known for the Oscar-winning "Cinema Paradiso," said the film was his most personal project yet.
"I took themes like frustrations, happiness, dreams, challenges, and I turned them into a movie," he said. "It's my take on life, but everyone born in a small town will fine similarities."
The screening took place in conjunction with a star-studded ceremony hosted by Cucinotta, the star of another Oscar-winning Italian film, "Il Postino." The festival hosted a beachside party after the ceremony.
The festival, which runs through Sept. 12, will have its first full day on Thursday. Its competition lineup is made up entirely of world premieres for the third time in four years and has healthy doses of Hollywood fare and domestic productions, with an unprecedented 19 first- and second-works in the official selections.