Natalie Portman and jury head Quentin Tarantino shared the red carpet Wednesday as the prestigious Venice film festival kicked off with the screening of Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan".
Fans screamed for autographs as a minor galaxy of Italian television starlets jockeyed for the limelight on the way into the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido for the opener of the 67th edition of the Mostra.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was in attendance, but entered the venue separately. Once inside, he received a standing ovation from the assembled glitteratti.
Ballet dancer, actress and goodwill ambassador Carla Fracci, 74, was also on hand to view the psychological thriller, one of the first US films to open the Mostra in years.
American films have returned in force to the lagoon city for the 2010 Mostra, with five in competition including Oscar-winner Sofia Coppola's dramatic comedy "Somewhere" and Vincent Gallo's "Promises Written on Water" about a girl with a terminal illness.
Also in the running are Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff" and Julian Schnabel's "Miral" starring Willem Dafoe.
Another five US films including Ben Affleck's "The Town" and Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones' "A Letter to Elia" will screen out of competition.
Portman, who plays the prima ballerina in "Black Swan" beset by inner demons and the cruel pressures of New York's cutthroat ballet scene, said of the film as she went into the gala event: "It investigates the conflict of your ego."
The Oscar-nominated actress was accompanied by co-star Vincent Cassel of France, who plays her brilliant but manipulative director.
Cassel, who like Portman practised ballet as a child, told a news conference earlier: "For one to be a ballet dancer it has to be a vocation, like being a priest."
The opening day of the festival, which runs through September 11, was marred by the absence of prominent Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was unable to travel to Venice for the screening of his short film "The Accordion".
Authorities have refused to return Panahi's passport, revoked nine months ago. He was jailed for three months after being arrested in March while shooting a film about the aftermath of Iran's disputed June 2009 polls.
"When a filmmaker is not allowed to make films, he is mentally imprisoned. He may not be confined to a small cell, but he is still wandering in a larger prison," Panahi said in a statement read out at the festival.
Panahi's "The Circle" criticising the treatment of women in Iran won the Golden Lion here in 2000.
A total of 24 films are competing for the top prize this year, with the late addition of "Essential Killing" by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski.
A "surprise" candidate is to be announced on Sunday.
On Thursday, Vietnamese-born Tran Anh Hung will present "Norwegian Wood" alongside "The Black Sheep" by Italy's Ascanio Celestini.
This year Venice will screen 79 full-length world premieres from 34 countries including a work from the Dominican Republic for the first time, about its neighbour Haiti.
Tarantino's jury also includes fellow directors Arnaud Desplechin of France, Guillermo Arriaga of Mexico and Italy's Gabriele Salvatores.
They will choose winners for the Golden Lion for best film, Volpi Cups for best actor and actress, and a special jury prize, among other awards.
It is the 67th edition of the Mostra, which began in 1932.