Venice Diary: The films are running on time - if you can get past the goons

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The Independent Online

Last year's festival was the most shambolic in living memory. Movies started late, reels were mixed up, and seats for swish galas oversold. This year things are going according to schedule - which means critics have been forced to fall back on bitching about the movies themselves. The biggest stinker so far is the Calista Flockhart vehicle Fragile. Broken beyond repair, more like. Some hailed the period comedy-drama Casanova a Richard Lester-style romp after it was shown on Friday night. Others called this ridiculously wholesome, 12A-certificate depiction of the world's greatest lover a bit limp. When asked at a press conference why he didn't try out an Italian accent for his role as the Venetian superstud, Heath Ledger replied that it wasn't necessary as this was "the Disney version".

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Frankness at press conferences is becoming a bit of theme here. When George Clooney was complimented on his fine job directing Good Night, and Good Luck, so far the hot tip for the Golden Lion award, he joked that maybe directing is what he's best at: "Acting, as I've proved time and time again, is not my greatest forte."

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Sienna Miller, who also stars in the tame Casanova, was a little more coy. Arriving by gondola yesterday in a black dress and movie star shades, she flirted with the press pack, which was dying to ask about Jude Law. The couple split when he admitted sleeping with his child's nanny, but have continued to meet. "I've met a few Casanovas that I like and some that I haven't," Ms Miller said playfully. "And I hope to meet a few more."

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Concerned about terrorist attacks, the organisers have set up massive white metal detectors at every access point to the Casino (the main festival headquarters) and the PalaGalileo cinema where all the press screenings take place. This being Italy, where design is a national passion, the gates harmonise beautifully with the imposing, quasi-fascist golden lions on plinths in front of the Palazzo del Cinema. And this being Italy, sunglass-wearing goons man the barricades. At one entrance they won't let you in wearing a backpack, while at the other entrance they'll let exactly the same pack through with barely a look inside. It is logically impossible for new arrivals on the Lido to get into the enclosed area at all: you must have a festival pass, but to get one you need to go inside the hallowed ground itself - which you can't enter without a pass. Russell Crowe arrives on the Lido next week to promote Cinderella Man, in which he plays boxer Jim Braddock. Here's hoping he'll give a demonstration of pugilistic skill with Francesco from the western gate.

Leslie Felperin is a film critic for 'Variety' and film editor of the 'Big Issue'