- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

VENICE, Italy (AP) - It has Al Pacino and zombie girlfriends, Owen Wilson and Lars von Trier.

The 71st Venice Film Festival opens this week, bringing 11 days of high art and Hollywood glamour to the canal-crossed Italian city.

Twenty films are competing for the coveted Golden Lion prize - 19 of them world premieres - and several dozen more will jostle for the attention of critics and audiences at an event that mixes adventurous fare from international auteurs with mainstream movies seeking awards-season momentum.

Here are five films, trends and themes to watch for:

BIRDMAN TAKES OFF

The festival - and the annual awards-season battle - kicks off Wednesday with the world premiere of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s twisted comedy “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”

Anticipation is high for a film that promises to mix the bold, surrealism-tinged sensibility of Inarritu (“Babel,” ”21 Grams”) with inspired casting - former “Batman” star Michael Keaton plays a past-his-prime actor struggling to move beyond his best-known role as an iconic action hero. Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts also star.

“It’s very original, very personal and at the same time it’s very entertaining and surprising,” festival director Alberto Barbera said Tuesday, as workers painted, hammered and laid red carpet at the festival site on Venice’s Lido resort island.

Last year’s Venice opener, space thriller “Gravity,” went on to win seven Academy Awards; Barbera hopes “Birdman” will also be a high-flyer.

PACINO DOUBLE-TAKE

The revered veteran stars in two Venice films, handily screening on the same day and both infused with bittersweet longing.

In David Gordon Green’s “Manglehorn,” Pacino plays a small-town Texas locksmith pining over a long-lost love. In Barry Levinson’s “The Humbling” - adapted from a Philip Roth novel - he’s an aging actor having an affair with a younger woman, played by Greta Gerwig.

Also doing double duty are Ethan Hawke - starring in Andrew Niccol’s drone-warfare drama “Good Kill” and Michael Almereyda’s Shakespeare adaptation “Cymbeline” - and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who appears in Benoit Jacquot’s romantic drama “Three Hearts” and von Trier’s explicit “Nymphomaniac.”

AMERICA’S UNEASY CONSCIENCE

Two competition entries look at issues troubling America’s soul: war and economics.

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