Italian critics cheer opening film; Clooney talks about the film’s appeal beyond US politics.

Venice kicked off Wednesday with George Clooney’s fourth directorial project Ides Of March, a film that provided the full package to Lido festival-goers as Clooney, producer Grant Heslov and cast, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood inaugurated the 68th edition’s red carpet.

The film, which charts the descent of an idealistic presidential campaign manager into cynicism, opened up to strong reviews by Italian critics. Significantly, critics said Clooney’s latest (he’s been in Venice launched films five times since 2003) stood up as an opening film.

Paolo Mereghetti of Corriere Della Sera told ScreenDaily, “It’s a great film, well constructed and superbly acted. I’d give it three stars out of four.”

Speaking of Italy’s expected reception he said, I think certainly in Italy the film will be well-received because we have a passion for politics. The desire for idealism and [the reality of] disillusionment is a recurrent theme for the Italian public.”

Stylistically, Clooney also received strong marks. Alberto Crespi, who reviews films for L’Unita and leads the popular radio programme Hollywood Party. I think Clooney as a director is developing in line with those classic American directors like Clint Eastwood that don’t need to show in every frame and sequence how technically smart they are but that try to be simple …and get to very deep in the issues that way.”

Comparing it Clooney’s and Heslov’s 2005 Good Night And Good Luck, Crespi said, “I think that film was more original in style and dramatic structure, it was black and white. I feel this film is more traditional and classic, maybe less original, but almost as good as Good Night And Good Luck, which was a very good film.”

That picture won Venice’s Osella for best screenplay and received six Oscar nominations.

Screen’s Lee Marshall wrote: “A dark and well-crafted parable of American political ethics - or the lack of them - George Clooney’s second delve into the US political arena after Good Night, And Good Luck confirms his talents as director and the creative fertility of his screenwriting and producing partnership with Grant Heslov.”

Earlier on Wednesday at the Lido’s packed opening news conference, Clooney told journalists that he and Heslov were making a “morality play set in the world of politics,” making the point that the film was not limited to attracting an audience of political lovers.

“I don’t think this is a political film, I figure you could literally put this on Wall Street or anywhere and– its all the same sort of issues of morality and if you are willing to trade your soul for an outcome – I never thought of it as a political film.”

More than the theme, Clooney said the film will do well abroad thanks to the great cast, top-lined by Ryan Gosling.

“We shot the film for $12 million, so Grant and I had to do a lot of sitting in a room with ten foreign investors and pitch why it was not just a film on politics and the cast made a huge difference on that. The story is doesn’t try to polarise an international audience with delegate counts and the US democratic primary. So the cast made a huge difference in that.”

Last year’s opener – Venice opened with Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Aronofsky is leading the jury this edition, which will judge Clooney’s and the other 22 films in competition.

At Venice’s opening ceremony in a newly refurbished Sala Grande, Aronofsky said his jury would consider all the films with “open hearts and pure minds…and judge each one on how it makes us feel.”

Biennale President Paolo Baratta said Venice’s Sala Grande had not been re-furbished since its inauguration in Venice’s fifth edition in 1937, a year that Marlene Dietrich was the big draw and the opening film was Mark Sandrich’s Fred Astaire starrer Shall We Dance.

The 68th edition of the Venice Film Festival wraps Sept 10.