Only one US movie joins the 20 Golden Lion finalists at Venice Film Festival

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A film starring Sean Penn will be the only US entry among 20 movies to vie for the Golden Lion top prize at the 60th Venice Film Festival this year.

The finalists include a film by the acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 21 Grams, starring Penn who plays a terminally ill professor, Naomi Watts, who plays a former drug addict, and Benicio Del Toro, as an ex-convict.

European movies dominate the race, with the British director Michael Winterbottom presenting Code 46, a futuristic thriller starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton.

Also vying for the Golden Lion is Pornography, a Polish film about a group of Second World War resistance fighters.

Other entries come from Italy, China, South Korea, France and Libya.

Moritz de Hadeln, who is directing the competition, said: "There is a strong European presence ... which just shows that there is something extraordinary going on in European cinema."

He said of the lack of US entries that perhaps directors were afraid "of entering a competition, of losing face ... or perhaps they are frightened they might damage their chances of winning an Oscar".

The festival is also running Countercurrent, a competition for alternative films. It has 18 entrants, including Lost in Translation, directed by Sofia Coppola, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, and filmed in Japan.

Hollywood studios will dominate Venice's out-of-competition showings, with a nearly finished version of Intolerable Cruelty, featuring George Clooney, Catherine Zeta Jones, Billy Bob Thornton and Geoffrey Rush. Also out of the competition is Robert Benton's The Human Stain, starring Nicole Kidman, Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris. Others include Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men with Nicolas Cage and Robert Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico, with Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp and Willem Dafoe.

The festival will pay homage to Katharine Hepburn, who died on 30 June, by screening a restored copy ofSummertime, directed by David Lean in 1955 and set in Venice. Hepburn plays a lonely American woman who falls in love with an Italian, played by Rossano Brazzi.

The festival, to be opened by Woody Allen, will run from 27 August to 6 September.