The 65th Venice Film Festival kicked off Wednesday night with a warm reception for the Coen Brothers' dark comedy Burn After Reading.

The out-of-competition film assured a star-studded opening night for Venice with principal cast George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand drawing ecstatic crowds of fans, many of which had camped out in front of the Palazzo del Cinema since that morning.

The Coens' wry comedy was well received here, with local press calling it a great opening film. To see Screen's review of the film click here.

'It makes you want to laugh and cry, it's a film done with great freedom and professionalism,' veteran critic Tullio Kezich told ScreenDaily.

Top Italian critic and author Paolo Mereghetti said that the Coens' die-hard fans won't be disappointed.

'The Coens often use a person that is poorly adapted to the world as their hero,' he said. 'It seems to me this film has that element as well as irony and taste.'

Russian actress Ksenia Rappoport hosted the opening night ceremony with Italy's film community on hand for the event, including Culture Minister Sandro Bondi and Studio heads Richard Borg for Universal and Paolo Ferrari for Warner Bros.

Italian distributor Medusa brought the film to the Lido; Giampaolo Letta and Carlo Rosella of Medusa were present alongside Focus Features James Shamus and Working Title's Tim Bevan.

In his opening comments, Marco Mueller said this edition sprang from his four years of experience as the festival's artistic director, but emphasised that this year's edition is 'starting again' and 'betting on the new'.

'We tried to present you a map of new cinema,' he said.

Wim Wenders introduced his seven-member international jury -- screenwriter Juriy Arabov, actress Valeria Golino, visual artist Douglas Gordon and film-makers Lucrecia Martel, John Landis and Jonny To -- as 'the magnificent seven.' The jury has decided to see the films in their public screenings.

'We promise to do our very best to pick the best possible films and we will see you [during the festival] because we will be watching the films with you,' Wenders said.

The ceremony was halted mid-way to present Brad Pitt with the award for Best Actor for his role in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, which he won last year but was not present to pick up.

'You can run but you cannot hide,' the actor joked on stage, accepting the Coppa Volpi. 'It's an honour to have received this last year and pick it up this year.'

The evening's most emotional moment came when centenarian director Manoel de Oliveira arrived on stage to a standing ovation.

At the end of the ceremony the Portuguese film-maker's seven-minute short film From Visible To Invisible (Do Visivel ao Invisivel), a satire on mobile-phone communication set on a Sao Paolo street. The short features a face-to-face phone conversation between two men.

Marco Mueller presented de Oliveira with an honourary Lion of the Future award, the prize given to first-time film-makers, and thanked de Oliveira for bringing his short film and said that, at 100 years of age, the venerable filmmaker had the flexibility of mind to make films 'like a youth.'

De Oliveira responded in French. 'I am very moved,' he said before going on to cite a long list of Italian films that influenced filmmakers around the world, from Quo Vadis to The Bicycle Thief, as well as citing a long list of Italy's well-loved actors and actresses, including Monica Vitti, Claudia Cardinale, Stefania Sandrelli and Marcello Mastroianni, whom he called 'his friend'.

'At the 65th Venice Film Festival,' de Oliveira said, 'Cinema is alive.'

Venice's traditional 1,200-guest formal dinner party followed the ceremony on the Lido's Excelsior Beach celebrating the opening in true Venetian style.

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