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Tuesday, August 31, 1999 Published at 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK


Sex sells at Venice

Under shelter: Nicole Kidman arrives at Venice on Monday

Film-makers are gathering in Venice for the world's oldest film festival - with Eyes Wide Shut leading a collection of movies with sex as their theme.

Stanley Kubrick's final film gets its European premiere at the 56th Venice Film Festival. Stars Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise are leading an array of Hollywood names descending on the glamourous Lido resort for the event.

[ image: Meryl Streep: Stars in Wes Craven's first non-horror movie]
Meryl Streep: Stars in Wes Craven's first non-horror movie
British stars Kate Winslet and Ewan McGregor will join Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and French legend Catherine Deneuve at the festival. Meryl Streep, Cameron Diaz, John Malkovich and Michael Caine are also expected to attend.

The festival's new director, Alberto Barbera, said he hoped the event would surprise and stimulate. This year, he has tried to update the festival's traditional art-house image by bringing in Hollywood stars alongside up-and-coming names.

Alongside Eyes Wide Shut - which deals with jealous and sexual obsession - there are a number of films dealing with erotic fantasies.

Among the 18 films competing for the festival's Golden Lion top prize are Frederic Fonteyne's Franco-Belgian co-production Une Liason Pornographique, and Lies, a film by South Korean director Jan Sun Woo about a sculptor's sado-masochistic affair with a student.

[ image: Cameron Diaz: Due to appear at Venice to promote Being John Malkovich]
Cameron Diaz: Due to appear at Venice to promote Being John Malkovich
Hollywood heart-throb Antonio Banderas is among those competing for the $100,000 debut director's prize. His first film, Crazy In Alabama, is set amid the racial and social tensions of 1960s America, and stars his wife Melanie Griffith.

Kate Winslet stars in New Zealand-born director Jane Campion's Holy Smoke, described as a "journey into the heart". Catherine Deneuve stars in another film about relationships, Le Vent de la Nuit, directed by Phillipe Garrel.

British director Mike Leigh's new film, Topsy-Turvy, tells the story of operetta stars Gilbert and Sullivan - a departure from his usual gritty films about life in the UK.

The first film to be made inside a Chinese women's prison - Seventeen Years - is also in competition. Made by Zhang Yuan, it follows a woman's life in jail for killing her stepsister.

[ image: John Malkovich: Being himself]
John Malkovich: Being himself
Films not in competition include Woody Allen's new film, Sweet And Low, starring Uma Thurman and Sean Penn alongside UK actress Samantha Morton, best known for her TV parts in Band of Gold and Emma.

Wes Craven's first non-horror film - the sentimental Music Of The Heart, starring Meryl Streep - will also be shown.

New director Spike Jonze - best known for music videos including the Beastie Boys' Sabotage - will also unveil his feature film debut, Being John Malkovitch.

Starring John Cusack and Cameron Diaz, it tells the story of a frustrated clerk who finds a secret portal in his office that enables him to become the respected Hollywood actor, who appears as himself in the film.

The festival will also honour Japanese director Akira Kurosawa on the anniversary of his death, while unseen clips from Alfred Hitchcock's films will be shown to mark the recent centenary of his birth.

Actor and director Jerry Lewis will be given a special Golden Lion award for his 50 years in Hollywood.

The festival continues until 11 September.

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