ROME (Reuters) - Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu opens this year's Venice film festival with the premier of "Birdman", a black comedy that heads a 55-strong selection leaning heavily toward war and recession, festival director Alberto Barbera said on Thursday.
As well as "Birdman", starring Michael Keaton as a fading action hero, 19 other films are in the main competition, including "Manglehorn", starring Al Pacino, "Good Kill" with Ethan Hawke as a disillusioned military drone pilot and Fatih Akin's "The Cut" with Tahar Rahim, star of Jacques Audiard's 2009 thriller "A Prophet".
Oscar winner Barry Levinson also directs Pacino in "The Humbling", showing outside the main competition.
Abel Ferrara's biopic "Pasolini", with Willem Dafoe playing the Italian writer and director who was murdered in 1975 and Iranian director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad's "Tales" will also be vying for the coveted Golden Lion award.
"There are lots of films that make reference to war. Sadly we are living in a moment in which the specter of war is rising dramatically again," Barbera told reporters as the lineup was unveiled in Rome.
The world's oldest film festival opens on Aug 27 and runs to Sept 6 with jury president Alexandre Desplat heading a judging panel that includes British actor Tim Roth, Palestinian director Elia Suleiman and Italian actor Carlo Verdone.
Out of competition, mischievous Danish director Lars Von Trier presents "Nymphomaniac Vol II", the long version director's cut of the controversial first "volume" shown in Berlin earlier this year.
American actor-director James Franco shows "The Sound and the Fury", an adaptation of William Faulkner's 1929 stream of consciousness novel with Seth Rogen and Jon Hamm, while the veteran Peter Bogdanovich offers "She's Funny That Way", a comedy with a cast including Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie)