Idealism loses out to cynicism in GEORGE CLOONEY’S THE IDES OF MARCH, which opens the VENICE FILM FESTIVAL.

GEORGE CLOONEY directs and acts in the political drama that features RYAN GOSLING as a gung ho press secretary swept into a sex scandal in the final days of a Democratic presidential primary in Ohio. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN and PAUL GIAMATTI are rival campaign managers who use loyalty as a weapon in their epic battle for victory.

MARISA TOMEI plays a NEW YORK TIMES reporter angling for scoops on the campaign trail. And EVAN RACHEL WOOD, a distractingly attractive volunteer eager to play in the big leagues, is yet another figure giving female political interns a bad rap.

GEORGE’S idealistic presidential candidate, Pennsylvania Governor MIKE MORRIS, has a straightforward platform: He’s nonreligious but defends the freedom of religion. He also opposes the death penalty and wants to phase out internal combustion engines to reduce American dependence on foreign oil.

GEORGE plays the presidential candidate, but told reporters at the festival Wednesday he is not looking to be one in real life.

“As for running for president…Look, there’s a guy in office right now who is smarter than almost anyone you know, who’s nicer and who has more compassion than almost anyone you know. And he’s having an almost impossible time governing. Why would anybody volunteer for that job? I have a really good job. I get to hang out with very seductive people. So I have no interest.”

For GEORGE, the film wasn’t so much a political movie as a morality tale, exploring the question of whether the ends justify the means. The political arena “raised the stakes,” the relaxed and jocular actor/filmmaker stated. But the questions the film poses reside in many areas of life.

“You could literally put this in Wall Street or you could put it pretty much anywhere. It’s all the same sort of issues. It’s issues of morality. It’s issues of whether or not you are willing to trade your soul for an outcome.”

In the film, many characters use seduction to get what they want: to get closer to power, to undermine the other campaign, to win political backing.

PAUL GIAMATTI called his character “an unabashedly seductive guy.” His play to recruit RYAN GOSLING’S character to the rival campaign opens the film’s exploration of loyalty and friendship in politics.

“My character is all about seduction…The whole game of politics is a kind of sexy game in America and I think (the movie) portrays it really well,” PAUL commented.

GEORGE CLOONEY and the other performers in the film are willing to concede that Washington and Hollywood may share seduction and power as common currency, but that doesn’t mean the stakes are the same. Hollywood, they suggested, commands a disproportionate amount of popular attention.

“I do think there is a huge difference between Hollywood and Washington, you know…and what we are responsible for and what influence we wield. I think sometimes it gets forgotten that the people who are governing us have a much more important position,” PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN stated.

The film’s title — THE IDES OF MARCH — highlights its undercurrent of betrayal. In SHAKESPEARE’S play JULIUS CAESAR, a soothsayer warns the leader of imminent betrayal with the line beware the ides of March.

“We thought that some of these themes seemed to be somewhat Shakespearean,” GEORGE remarked.

“We will leave it up to people to decide who is Cassius and who’s Brutus and who’s Julius Caesar. Everyone has different points of view.”

It is hard to shake off the film’s ultimate cynicism, which seems to reflect the current mood and gridlock in U.S. politics. But perhaps such a movie requires a cynical moment. GEORGE said that he shelved the movie in the face of brimming optimism following the 2008 election of PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA.

“It took about a year and that was over,” he said, with a fair degree of irony. Still, he expressed hope that this too will pass.

“Cynicism seems to be winning over idealism right now. I think it will change. I hope it will change. Soon.”

GEORGE has a villa in northern Italy on Lake Como and is a familiar face at the LIDO. He’s directed or acted in six films that have been shown in Venice since 2003, including GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK, BURN AFTER READING and MICHAEL CLAYTON.

THE IDES OF MARCH is GEORGE’S first directorial effort to headline the festival. It is vying for THE GOLDEN LION, which will be awarded on SEPTEMBER 10.

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