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VENICE, Italy, Sept 6 (AFP) - A "down and dirty" musical featuring strong language and sexual innuendo, "Romance and Cigarettes" by John Turturro, received a lukewarm reception from critics at the Venice film festival where it premiered Tuesday.
The charming black comedy starring Sopranos' star James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon, one of nine American world premieres at the festival, is competing in the official competition for the Golden Lion award for best film.
Outright booing greeted the first Italian film shown in competition, "Days of Abandonment" by Roberto Faenza, despite a good performance from Margherita Buy as an abandoned wife in a story based on a novel by Elena Ferrante.
"The film is a pitiless and subtle description of what takes place in the mind of a desperate woman," said Buy.
The best reception for the three most recent films shown in competition was reserved for Abel Ferrara's "Mary," a dark story of religious faith starring Forest Whitaker and Juliette Binoche.
Binoche plays an actress so inspired by her role as Gospel figure Mary Magdalene that she decides to travel to Jerusalem to continue her spiritual journey when the film shoot is completed. Whitaker plays a television journalist undergoing a personal crisis.
Ferrara's apocalyptic film focuses on what it is to have faith, who was Jesus and why is there such violent intolerance between religions.
In "Romance and Cigarettes" Gandolfini plays bawdy ironworker Nick Murder, married to Sarandon's character Kitty, who carries on a torrid affair with flame-haired foulmouth Tula, played by Kate Winslet.
Faced with his wife's wrath and Tula's demand for commitment, good-hearted Nick must find a way back to his family while coming to terms with his baser instincts.
The action takes place against a backdrop of anthems from the 1970s and 80s by James Brown, Janis Joplin, Englelbert Humperdinck, Tom Jones, Bruce Springsteen and others, to which the cast -- memorably Christopher Walken as "Cousin Bo" -- sing and dance along.
"I don't think of it as a musical, more of a working class opera," Sarandon told a press conference.
"The actors were performing the songs rather than acting the songs, in a lot of cases. Allowing the characters to express an emotion that they weren't comfortable expressing with dialogue."
Described as a "down and dirty" musical in the publicity material, the Coen Brothers-produced movie certainly delivers the strongest language of the event so far.
"I think dirty language of a certain kind and I think it actually very useful in life," said Turturro. "Everything can't be sweet and beautiful all the time."
"There were things that Susan didn't really understand. We had to explain them to her," he joked. It could have been worse: "There were things that Kate Winslett said that we had to cut."
Joel Coen said he and brother Ethan became interested in making the film after Turturro showed them the script. "It was sufficiently demented to appeal to us. It was stylistically quite bold, we thought."
The feel-good atmosphere of the movie takes a glum turn towards the end as a life of puffing too many cigarettes finally catches up with the wheezing Nick.
"The film becomes a bit austere at the end, but life is like that. You're having a lot of fun and then it hits you," said Turturro, who has previously appeared in the Coen Brothers' "Barton Fink".
The cast features four other Turturros, making the movie something of a family affair.
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