THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL opened last night with the premiere of THE COEN BROTHERS’ dark comedy BURN AFTER READING, giving a flash of Hollywood glamour to a lineup with a definite arthouse feel.

The 21 motion pictures competing for the coveted GOLDEN LION at the fest (which runs through SEPTEMBER 6) will provide a snapshot of world cinema. There are entries from Ethiopia, Turkey and Algeria – along with a Brazilian/Chinese production.

While the lineup gives the impression of being light on celebrity driven Hollywood fare – due to both the impact of last year’s writers’ strike and a late selection process for CANNES’ springtime fest – festival director MARCO MUELLER said U.S. films were well represented.

“This is the second time – and it is a record for the history of the festival – we have five American films in competition,” Mr. Mueller said, emphasizing that selections aren’t based on any national criteria. “The festival is not an atlas of nations.”

BURN AFTER READING, starring GEORGE CLOONEY, BRAD PITT, FRANCES McDORMAND and TILDA SWINTON, is among another five American films being shown out of competition.

The first US movie vying for the GOLDEN LION is GUILLERMO ARRIAGA’S THE BURNING PLAIN, starring CHARLIZE THERON and KIM BASINGER as a mother and daughter attempting to forge a bond. The writer of 21 GRAMS is making his debut as a director.

DARREN ARONOFSKY will present THE WRESTLER, with MICKEY ROURKE as a wrestler forced into retirement who begins a romance with a stripper. JONATHAN DEMME will be showing his picture RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, which has ANNE HATHAWAY as a daughter whose return home for her sister’s wedding makes old tensions resurface.

KATHRYN BIGELOW is bringing THE HURT LOCKER, an Iraq war drama about soldiers who defuse bombs in the heat of war. Also among the U.S. entrants is VEGAS: BASED ON A TRUE STORY, which concerns the family life of a compulsive gambler.

BRAD PITT picked up an award that he won last year – the BEST ACTOR prize for THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD.

“You can run but you can’t hide,” BRAD joked as he accepted the award during the opening ceremony.

“It was an honour to receive this last year and it remains an honour to accept it this year.”

German filmmaker WIM WENDERS, whose credits include PARIS, TEXAS and THE BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, is heading this year’s jury. “We will see 21 films and I hope – and I have a lot of confidence in MARCO – that we will see 21 films that give us the state of art of what is cinema today.”

BURN AFTER READING is GEORGE CLOONEY’S third motion picture with the COENS – completing what he called his “trilogy of idiots” after O, BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? and INTOLERABLE CRUELTY.

BRAD PITT and FRANCES McDORMAND play a pair of hapless gym employees who get in way over their heads when the memoirs of a failed CIA analyst, played by JOHN MALKOVICH, fall into their hands and they try to peddle them as classified intelligence. GEORGE CLOONEY portrays a hypochondriac philanderer having an affair with the CIA analyst’s disappointed wife (TILDA SWINTON).

“We started writing the movie as kind of an exercise, thinking of what kinds of parts these actors might play, what kind of story they might inhabit,” ETHAN COEN told a news conference.

The reason they decided on a spy story is simple. “We hadn’t done one before,” JOEL COEN remarked to reporters.

“It could have been a dog movie or an outer space movie. We just kind of landed on a spy movie.”

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