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A pair of gay cowboys rode into Venice on Friday, as Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain set tongues wagging at the annual film festival with scenes of gay love in the wilds of Wyoming. The film stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, two of cinema's hottest young prospects, and is a moving tale of forbidden love that begins in 1963 and ends 20 years later.
It is one of 20 movies vying for the coveted Golden Lion at the world's oldest cinema competition, which is gearing up for its busiest weekend as more Hollywood A-listers prepare to bring glamour and screaming fans to the famed Lido waterfront. Both actors appear in other competition films. Australian heartthrob Ledger is in Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, and Gyllenhaal acts alongside Gwyneth Paltrow in Proof. Ledger has a third film in Venice, the out-of-competition Casanova.
Ledger said Brokeback, shot amid stunning mountain vistas, was the first "proper" love story he had played. "I find there's not a lot of mystery left in stories between guys and girls; it's all been done or seen before," he said. "I felt this was such a refreshing story of love. For me, our characters were also complex, and to...really investigate this form of humanity and expression of love was an opportunity that I hadn't had."
For Lee, director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the film, based on a short story by writer Annie Proulx, was about the pursuit of love and happiness in the face of adversity. "Ennis and Jack are in the American West, which has macho and traditional values. So everything they feel, they have to keep private," Lee said.
But the aim of the film was not to make a political point about intolerance toward gays, producer James Schamus told reporters. "We are using the codes and conventions of romance that have always applied to straight people very unapologetically. We don't care if anyone is going to be upset about it. There's not a conscious political program one way or the other."
True to the spirit of many American entries at Venice this year, Lee describes Brokeback Mountain as independent and low-budget. It was filmed in Canada, rather than Wyoming, where it is set, in order to save money. Several U.S. offerings, including George Clooney's Good Night. And, Good Luck, which premiered on Thursday, point to a less studio-oriented approach to movies, with many fully or partially independent. At the other end of the spectrum is The Brothers Grimm, with a budget estimated at $80 million and starring Matt Damon and Ledger alongside Jonathan Pryce and Monica Bellucci.
Clooney, who acted in and directed Good Night and has a home on Lake Como, Italy, drew screaming fans to his red carpet event on Thursday, signing autographs and chatting with the mostly female crowd. His story of a journalist's use of television to expose the bullying tactics of late-senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee in their anticommunist crusade was well received by critics and journalists, as was Brokeback.
Venice also aims to showcase Asian cinema this year, and the "surprise film" of 2005, which entered the official competition at the last minute, was cult Japanese director Takeshi Kitano's mystery movie Takeshi's. It screens on Friday, as does out-of-competition Initial D, a Hong Kong film starring Jay Chou and Anthony Wong. (Mike Collett-White, via Reuters)