VENICE - The Venice film festival kicks off Wednesday with the arrival of movie stars on water taxis for a dark line-up flush with fiendish tales of abuse, betrayal and survival.
The world's oldest film festival opens with "Gravity", a 3-D sci-fi thriller starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts who are flung into deep space when a debris shower destroys their shuttle.
Other premieres are "Parkland", Peter Landesman's re-creation of John F. Kennedy's assassination and David Gordon Green's brutal "Joe" with Nicholas Cage as a violent ex-con who teams up with a homeless teen.
"This festival draws its strength from the risks it takes," this year's jury president, Oscar-winning Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, said at a canalside cocktail party on the eve of the opening ceremony.
Gondoliers could be seen shipping silver screen stars to Venice's Lido island where the 70th edition of the festival will run to September 7, accompanied by a plethora of luxury yacht parties and beach soirees.
Paparazzi were doused in sea spray as speed boats whipped past the shore of the Lido and starlets lounged in the Italian sun.
Alongside Clooney, Bullock and Cage, red carpet stars will include Scarlett Johansson, Matt Damon, Zac Efron and South Korea's Kim Ki-duk whose grim morality tale "Pieta" won the Golden Lion prize last year.
Twenty films are up for the Lion this year.