Venice Competition Launches With Italian, Australian, German Entries

Alba Rohrwacher in "A Street in Palermo"

The Lido on Thursday was also still buzzing about Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity," which screened five times over the festival's first two days.

VENICE, Italy – The race for the Venice Film Festival's prestigious Golden Lion award got underway Thursday with the screening of the first three of 20 competition entries while the Lido was still abuzz after Wednesday's opening night screening of Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity.

A Street in Palermo (Via Castellana Bandiera), a film about a stubborn Sicilian stand-off between two cars blocking each other on a narrow street and the silver screen directorial debut of acclaimed Italian dramatist Emma Dante, and Tracks, about a woman's epic Australian desert trek directed by John Curran, were Thursday's main attractions, screening back to back on a double bill in the festival's Sala Grande.

In a press briefing Thursday, Dante said the film was a metaphor for the gridlock and the economic crisis gripping Italy in recent years: "It shows where we are today; it's an unusual moment in our history," Dante said.

Also premiering Thursday was Die Frau des Polizisten (The Police Officer's Wife), a drama about a woman's struggles with marital problems from German director Philip Gröning.

All three screened to full venues, with the early indications pointing to a rise in public interest on the Lido compared with last year.

The nascent Venice Film Market also started Thursday, along with the initial screenings from the main sections: Horizons, Critics' Week, Venice Days and the one-off Venice Classics sidebar.

But Wednesday's out of competition premiere of Gravity was still the talk of the town a day later. The film, which stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as a pair of astronauts who get stranded in space after their ship is damaged by debris, earned strong reviews in the Italian press. The Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy called the film "the most realistic and beautifully choreographed film ever set in space."

All told, Gravity screened four separate times Wednesday -- all to capacity crowds -- with a fifth screening on Thursday.

Clooney and Bullock wowed crowds ahead of Wednesday night's official world premiere, signing autographs for 20 minutes and even posing for photos with security personnel. But the parade of stars didn't stop with them. Lindsay Lohan, in town in connection with Paul Schrader's out of competition entry The Canyons, and Nicolas Cage, for David Gordon Green's competition selection Joe, were among Thursday's arrivals. Both films will premiere Friday.

Wednesday night also saw the launch of Venice's Future Reloaded initiative, created to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the world's oldest film festival. Future Reloaded is made up of 70 ultra-short films – all under two minutes in length – created by 70 different directors with previous ties to Venice.

Ahead of the Gravity premiere, the festival screened the first two shorts -- from Bernardo Bertolucci and Schrader -- with the directors on stage for the screenings as part of the presentations of jury members. Bertolucci is the head of the festival's international jury, while Schrader heads the jury for the innovative Horizons section. Other Future Reloaded shorts will screen before other films in the official selection, as well as in a stand-alone two-hour feature.

The festival runs through Sept. 7.

Twitter: @EricJLyman