By Isla Binnie
VENICE (Reuters) - Judi Dench brought pathos and laughter to Venice on Saturday with her performance in the title role of "Philomena", the true story of an Irish woman who searches for the son who was taken from her and sold by nuns.
Pope Francis, who has taken over a Catholic Church beset by scandal, should watch the film, director Stephen Frears said.
"I'm very keen that the Pope should see it," he said.
"Philomena" debuted at the Venice film festival alongside James Franco's "Child of God", the chilling tale of a cave-dwelling necrophiliac, and "Night Moves" about three eco-warriors who plot to blow up a dam.
Asked why he had made a film about such a taboo subject, Franco said it had provided a way "for me to examine something that's pushed out of civilised society".
"Philomena" is based on "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee", the 2009 book by Martin Sixsmith which prompted thousands of adopted Irish children and their mothers to come forward and tell their stories.
Philomena goes to America to look for her son with world-weary journalist Sixsmith, played by co-writer Steve Coogan, creating what Frears describes as "an odd-couple film, an extraordinary road trip".
"I really liked the British humour which contrasts with the religious issues," said Jacopo Mascholini, a 22-year-old student from Rome who attended the screening.
Put to work in a Catholic laundry after having a baby out of wedlock in 1952, Philomena loses her son to strangers and is prevented from finding him again, but does not lose her Catholic religion.
Philomena's uncomplicated faith is emphasised by the cynicism of Sixsmith, who lost his job as a British government spin doctor in 2002, beset by controversy over an email that allegedly said September 11 was a good day to bury bad news.
Sixsmith asks Philomena during the film why God gave people sexual desires if the church would then brand them sinful.
"Was it some weird game to relieve the boredom of being omnipotent?" he asks.
"The real Philomena's faith I found very affecting, but my heart is much more with the cynical journalist," Frears said.
OUTSIDERS COME IN
The two other films being premiered on Saturday and entering the running for a prestigious Golden Lion award depict characters isolated from society.
Kelly Reichardt's "Night Moves" stars Jesse Eisenberg alongside Dakota Fanning and Peter Saarsgard as young radical environmentalists who plot to destroy a huge dam.
Eisenberg's Josh lives in an environmentally sustainable commune, surrounded by organic artichokes and aura-reading machines, without any obvious family of his own, and fails to fit in.
"He is an outsider of the outside," Reichardt told Reuters on Saturday. "But Josh feels pretty right about everything, so that's his sort of impetus."
Texas-born actor Scott Haze plays a lonely Tennessee backwoodsman whose traumatic life twists him into a necrophiliac and murderer in "Child of God", based on Cormac McCarthy's novella of the same name.
Director Franco plays a bit part in the film, which requires English subtitles to decode the grunting delivery of Haze's character Lester Ballard.
"It was a way for me to examine something that's pushed out of civilised society, and someone who is extremely isolated and lonely and who wants to in fact connect with other people but is in fact incapable," Franco said after the film's premiere.
Nick James, editor of the British film magazine Sight & Sound, was not convinced the film had pulling power.
"I'm not sure why anyone would want to see it who is not a James Franco fan," he said.
(Additional reporting by Michael Roddy; Editing by Andrew Heavens)