The 64th edition of the Venice Film Festival kicked off Wednesday with UK director Joe Wright's Ian McEwan adaptation Atonement, which was well received in its world premiere.

All eyes were on British actress Keira Knightley as she sauntered down the red carpet flanked by British co-stars James McAvoy and veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave.

The second work by Joe Wright, which comes on the heels of Pride and Prejudice, got the festival off to a competitive start from the out set.

The Universal/Working Title/Focus Features production gave festival goers a unique opportunity to see the first of this year's Golden Lion competitors on the normally gala-oriented opening night.

Wright's romantic but serious picture was well received here, with some press ecstatic.

One of Italy's top film critics, Tullio Kezich, called Wright's film 'magnificent.'

'No other film will be able to do what Vanessa Redgrave did in the last five minutes of this one,' Kezich, a Corriere della Sera veteran told

The praise also reflects Joe Wright's inventive handling of the bestselling book into movie form - also duly noted by critics on the Lido. McEwan is a popular author in Italy.

Venice's opening ceremony, though, was tinged with nostalgia for its past as it strives to look forward. From the looks of the first days of the event, this is sure to be a recurrent theme on the Lido this year. While the event celebrates the 75th year since its inception (the oldest film festival in the world), it may prove to be the last edition run by Marco Mueller and Davide Croff.

The duo is well liked and has managed to bring a phase of renewal to the Lido. They have successfully brought their plans for a new Palazzo to reality. And likely, the Palazzo will be presented in official form at some point during this year's edition. But it'll be up to Italian politicians to decide if Mueller and Croff's mandate will be renewed.

'We couldn't be auto celebrative,' said Mueller giving a nod to his predecessors at his opening ceremony speech. 'We are part of history and we have to look back in order to look forward.'

He says this in reference to the August 6, 1932 debut edition of Venice which featured screenings on the Excelsior Hotel Terrace with a line up that included Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, Edmund Goulding's Grand Hotel and Rene Clair's Freedom for Us (A nous la liberte).

Following the ceremony, a 1200 guest formal dinner party with fireworks on the Lido's beach celebrated the kick off in grand Venetian style.

Guests included Cannes Festival director Thierry Fremaux and Berlinale Festival director Dieter Kosslick. Italians present included Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli, Turin's Cinema Museum director Alberto Barbera and Rome Film Fest's artistic director Teresa Cavina.

In addition to Wright, the competition features films by Wes Anderson, Kenneth Branagh, Youssef Chahine, Brian De Palma, Andrew Dominik, Paolo Franchi, Tony Gilroy, Peter Greenaway, Jose Luis Guerin, Paul Haggis, Todd Haynes, Jiang Wen, Lee Kang Sheng, Abdellatif Kechiche, Ang Lee, Ken Loach, Vincenzo Marra, Miike Takashi, Nikita Mikhalkov, Andrea Porporati and Eric Rohmer. All but confirmed officially, Johnnie To is set to bring out this year's 'surprise' competition entry.

As to how the winners will be selected, while most of the all-director jury remained tight lipped, Italian jurist Emanuele Crialese told journalists Wednesday 'I am here as a director and am looking for a revelation. If it touches me deeply that will be my favorite,' he said. Crialese may have used that term in reference to the ad-hoc Silver 'Revelation' Lion he was awarded for his immigration themed picture The Golden Door at Venice last year.

Journalists and festival attendees will be pleased by the streamlined security measures to access venues this year. While each entry is still heavily guarded by police and security flack, the long lines and bag searches in place as post-9/11 precautions and that created mobility problems in the past two editions, have been done away with.