Italy's version of TV clown Norman Gunston managed to win a kiss from Nicole Kidman after declaring he was hopelessly in love with the Aussie star - right in front of husband Tom Cruise. The confession of infatuation by Italian jokester Fabbio Volle brought the press conference about the famous couple's movie, Eyes Wide Shut, to an hilarious halt on the first day of the Venice Film Festival.
"I have something in common with you, Mr Cruise," Volle told him before his TV camera and more than 500 journalists. "I am in love with your wife." He then went on to admit it was a hopeless adoration, since he was from a small village and Kidman lives far away, but he simply couldn't help it. He then managed to push past the couple's burly bodyguards to present a flower to Kidman, and steal a kiss from her in return.
Cruise and Kidman proved impossible to upstage for long, however, with both Cruise and Kidman confessing they were intimidated only by Stanley Kubrick while making the movie. "Sometime, I would look at him and think, `Oh my God! I'm working with Stanley Kubrick!'" said Cruise.
Kidman felt similarly. "On our first meeting, we went to Stanley's house and sat in a room with him," she said. "I was completely intimidated and the first thing Stanley said to us was, `Please don't put me on a pedestal. If we are going to work together, I don't want you to be frightened of giving me an idea or suggesting an idea'.
"That's the thing that really astounded me because I had heard so many stories about him saying, `This is exactly the way you say this line', but it wasn't like that at all."
Kidman and Cruise, both wearing an identical shade of grey - she in a short linen dress, and he in T-shirt and smart trousers - flew in from Australia for the press conference. At one point, Cruise admitted he was tired, having just arrived, and quite overwhelmed by the size of the press conference. Kidman blew him a kiss as he lost track of a question and apologised to the crowd.
But both agreed, they weren't worried about some bad reviews the movie had received. "I've never been in a film that has had such a diverse reaction to it," said Kidman. "That's very very exciting because it promotes discussion. It's not about going in and walking out afterwards and never talking about it again.
"People come up to me and want to talk about it all the time. They say, `What does this mean, what did that mean?' That's fascinating as an actor."
After kicking off with the European premiere of Eyes Wide Shut, the only thing everyone agrees on at this year's Venice Film Festival is that the competition is wide open.
Naturally enough, there are some crowd favourites.
Australian eyes will all be on the new Jane Campion movie, Holy Smoke. Starring Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, it's the movie she wrote with her sister Anna, and the buzz is: it's a return to form for Jane after the disappointment of Portrait of a Lady, which opened here three years ago.
Jane is a popular figure at Venice, which she also chose to launch her Oscar-winning movie The Piano. She'll be at Holy Smoke's premiere on Friday night local time.
Other Australian interest is focusing, oddly enough, on the Polish movie, A Week In The Life Of A Man, which stars Australian actor Gosia Dobrowolska (well known in the Australian arthouse circuit), sharing top billing with the actor-director Jerzy Stuhr.
The other English language films to the fore include Crazy In Alabama, screen heart-throb Antonio Banderas' directorial debut starring-- surprise, surprise -- his wife Melanie Griffith; Topsy Turvy, a new film from British gloom-meister Mike Leigh about the melodramatic lives of English operetta composers Gilbert & Sullivan; Swedish director Lasse (My Life As A Dog) Hallstrom's version of the John Irvine classic The Cider House Rules, with Michael Caine, Kate Nelligan and Kieran Culkin; and Jesus' Son, with Denis Leary, Holly Hunter and Dennis Hopper, about the misadventures of a young man called Fuckhead, told in the first person.
The remaining films in competition are Nordrand (Austria), Appassionate (Italy), Une Liaison Poronographique (Belgium/France/Luxembourg), Le Vent De La Nuit (France), Pas De Scandale (France), Le Vent Nous Emportera (France), Mal (Portugal), Gojitmal (South Korea), Rien A Faire (France), A Domani (Italy), Not One Less (China), and Seventeen Years (China).
Out of competition, the highlights are likely to be the premiere of Woody Allen's new movie Sweet and Lowdown; The Fight Club, starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter; the romantic fantasy Being John Malkovich, with the man himself joining Cameron Diaz and John Cusack; and the gritty US real-life drama Boys Don't Cry . And, of course, it simply wouldn't be Venice without a couple of other Australian events: Stephan Elliott's new movie, Eye of the Beholder, starring Ewan McGregor, Ashley Judd and k.d. laing; and Feeling Sexy, the modest low-budget short-long (or was that long short) debut feature of Davida Allen, starring Susie Porter.