Two films in the Venice competition have been logging strong buyer interest and notching up sales even before their world premieres later this week.

Russian first film The Return, directed by Andrey Zvyagantsev, has added deals with France's Ocean Films and The Netherlands' Contact Films to previous licence agreements signed with Switzerland's Frenetic and Italy's Lucky Red.

Sales agent Raissa Fomina of Intercinema Art Agency said that she was fending off serious interest from distributors in the UK, North America, Japan and Greece, but was unwilling to sell it blind.

Representatives from the four companies that have been successful are understood to have seen sneak previews of the picture in Moscow or Rome. The film, about two brothers and the mysterious return of their father, gets its first public screening tomorrow (Sept 2) in Venice and will also show at Montreal and Toronto.

Iconic Japanese director Takeshi Kitano screens his Zatoichi today (Monday, Sept 1). The film about a blind masseur who is also a master swordsman was previously picked up by Italy's Mikado from Paris-based sales agent Celluloid Dreams.

Other deals for the title include Bac Films for France, Shani Films for Israel, Maywin Media for Russia, Vertigo for Spain, Blitz for Croatia, Seviulle for Canada and Prooptiki for Greece.

The UK's Artificial Eye bought Zatoichi, as well as another Venice competitior Alila directed by Isarael's Amos Gitai and the Toronto-bound L'Histoire De Marie Et Julien by veteran French director Jacques Rivette. The same package was also picked up by Portugal's Madragoa with the addition of Francois Ozon's Swimming Pool and animated feature Les Triplettes De Belleville, both of which premiered at Cannes.

"Our policy has been to follow directors and stick with the distributors that are faithful to them," said Celluloid chief Hengameh Panahi. "Over the years this approach has paid dividends.

"Panahi also reported strong US interest and said that she had been inundated with requests from US players for private screenings.

Takashi's Dolls played in competition at Venice last year. He previously won the Golden Lion with Hana-Bi.