Spike Jonze's 'Her' Creates Major Buzz at Rome Film Fest

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From left: Rooney Mara, Spike Jonze, Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix in Rome

Star Joaquin Phoenix charmed the media at the film's press conference with dry, irreverent humor.

ROME -- This was Her weekend at the Rome Film Festival.

The European premiere of Spike Jonze's Her, an unusual romantic drama about a love affair between a lonely man and a computer operating system, was the talk of the eight-year-old festival over its opening weekend, playing to full screenings and causing a buzz among critics and journalists.

Scarlett Johansson, who plays the voice of the operating system that seeks to be more human, and Joaquin Phoenix, in the main role, were joined by supporting actress Rooney Mara and Jonze on Rome's red carpet Sunday, packed with fans and paparazzi despite a steady drizzle.

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Earlier in the day, Phoenix stole the show at the film's presser when he showed up in good spirits, wowing the packed auditorium with dry, irreverent jokes. When one journalist remarked that she thought the film "was the best film at the festival, by far," Phoenix quickly quipped that the questioner might not be objective. "She's my aunt," he said. And when the next question contradicted her by pointing out that the third day of a 10-day festival was too early to anoint a best film, Phoenix pointed to the second questioner and deadpanned, "But he's not related to me."

Nonetheless, it's clear that the warm reception for the in-competition film is welcome for a festival whose press clippings in recent months have been dominated by political and economic pressures and debate among stakeholders over the future of the event.

But Her wasn't the only weekend highlight. Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme, whose first feature film in five years, Fear of Falling, will have its world premiere Monday, gave a Sunday afternoon master class that had fans waiting in line for 45 minutes beforehand. Among the highlights: Upon discussing his 2012 documentary Enzo Avitabile Music Life, protagonist Enzo Avitabile -- a groundbreaking musician from Naples -- stood up in the crowd to the delight of the surprised Demme.

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In the Alice in the City section, Who Is Dayani Cristal from Marc Silver and Gael Garcia Bernal and Pierre Godeau's Juliette stood out.

A day earlier, I Am Not Him, an in-competition drama from Turkey's Tayfun Pirselimoglu and Dallas Buyers Club from Jean-Marc Vallee -- both in competition -- were the main attractions, along with a master class from Oscar-nominated actor John Hurt. Hurt made the day of at least one Italian filmmaker, who used the actor's master class to offer him a script the filmmaker said was written with Hurt in mind. Hurt took the script and promised to be in touch.

On Monday, the competition slate goes into full swing, with seven different competition films screening in at least one of the festival's venues.

The Rome Film Festival runs through Nov. 17.

Twitter: @EricJLyman