Sultry Bellucci opens Rome film festival

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ROME, Oct 18 (Reuters) Homegrown sex symbol Monica Bellucci opened the Rome film festival today as the gang moll in ''Second Wind'', a French gangster movie set in the 1960s.

Bellucci dyed her long, dark hair to play Manouche, the curvy blonde clad in tight sequin dresses who falls for Gustave ''Gu'' Minda, a middle-aged gangster who has escaped from jail.

Manouche wants to start a new life with the cash-strapped Gu in Italy, but he insists on pulling one last heist.

The film, by director Alain Corneau and with Daniel Auteuil as Gu, is a remake of a 1966 French classic by Jean-Pierre Melville which starred Lino Ventura in the gangster's role.

Both are adaptations of a tale of honour among outlaws by Jose Giovanni, a former criminal-turned-novelist and filmmaker who spent 11 years in prison and said he had based his book on real-life people he met in the underworld.

Melville's 1966 film was a big hit, despite being bogged down by constant fighting between the director and Giovanni, as well as a lawsuit by the real Manouche.

Corneau, who worked with Giovanni as a young assistant-director and has made several police thrillers, said his version was more faithful to the original novel.

''I've had this project in my heart for more than thirty years,'' he told reporters after a press screening of the film, which is one of 14 titles in competition at the festival. ''The book builds up like a Greek tragedy, with themes like the code of honour among criminals, the importance of giving one's word ... Nowadays things have changed, those codes and rules that existed between gangsters have disappeared,'' he said.

Bellucci, whose strong-willed character ultimately decides to leave her lover to his fate, said it had been her idea to dye her hair.

''I immediately thought she had to be blonde, because that is the image we have of film noir heroines,'' she said.

''I drew inspiration from French actresses in the 1950s-1960s, like Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Simone Signoret,'' said Bellucci, who is married to French actor Vincent Cassel and lives in Paris.

Another curvaceous Italian actress who became a sex symbol in those years, Sophia Loren, will receive a lifetime achievement award at the festival later today. The Rome event, at its second edition, runs until October 27 and will screen 140 films.

Among the most eagerly awaited titles is Saturday's world premiere of ''Youth Without Youth'', Francis Ford Coppola's first movie in 10 years, the story of an ageing teacher who becomes young again after being struck by lightning.

REUTERS RSA RAI2253

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