'Birdman' Opens 71st Venice Film Festival in Splendor

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The Cast of 'Birdman'

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's new film is already primed as an Oscar contender

The 71st edition of the Venice Film Festival launched Wednesday with the kind of opening film that any festival would kill for. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman received near unanimous praise from international press assembled on the Lido. It's a far cry from the Cannes opener this year, Grace of Monaco, which was almost universally panned.

The film stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor trying to reclaim his former glory through staging a Raymond Carver adaptation on Broadway. Edward Norton plays a rival actor who makes him question his relevancy.

After the premiere, the film received a long standing ovation. The director and actors present, including Keaton, Norton, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan, took turns taking their bows, mirroring the theatrical bows in the film. And Stone's boyfriend, Andrew Garfield, whose own movie 99 Homes premieres in Venice on Friday, sat behind her, cheering in support.

President of Italy Giorgio Napolitano was also present in the auditorium as the night's guest of honor.

Both Keaton and Norton are already being thrown into the Oscar race. After last year's Venice opener Gravity took home seven Academy Awards, the bar will be set high come Oscar season.

Other much-buzzed-about roles include Stone, who plays Keaton's angsty, rehab-y daughter, and Zach Galifianakis, who plays a straight lawyer/producer character. Both bring an even greater depth to an already rich film.

Venice mainstay the Excelsior Hotel hosted the gala dinner after the festival screening, where jury members Tim Roth and Jhumpa Lahiri feasted on a lavish seafood buffet. Harvey Weinstein accompanied Italian actress Alessandra Mastronardi. Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk playfully took to the beachfront rocks for a nighttime photo shoot.

Twitter: @Aristonla