The city traded some of its old-world charm for Hollywood glitz at the Venice film fest.

At the 58th International Venice Film Festival, the world’s most celebrated single girl, Nicole Kidman, made a bigger splash than any gondolier. Stunning in slit-up-to-here gown and heels, she caused such a stir upon her arrival on opening day, Aug. 29, that officials asked her boatman to slow down so the paparazzi chasing her wouldn’t cause an accident.

Kidman charmed reporters at press conferences for the films she was touting—The Others and the upcoming Birthday Girl, in which she plays a Russian mail-order bride ordered by Ben Chaplin. In response to a reporter’s quip, that ”the ideal man is tall and named Roland,” she retorted: ”I’ll take the tall man.” And asked if she could speak Russian, as she does in Girl, she said sharply, ”Nyet.”

For many stars, Venice is an ideal locale to promote a new movie. ”This is my favorite film festival in the whole world,” says Ethan Hawke, in town with costar Denzel Washington for Training Day. Hawke was moored with pregnant wife Uma Thurman at the luxe Cipriani hotel. ”People are serious here. It’s a beautiful place to be to celebrate cinema. And it’s a pleasure to wake up at that hotel.”

Many of the fest’s American films were new only in Europe—A.I. Artificial Intelligence was a big attraction—but others were debuting. Mira Sorvino was delighted that her period picture Triumph of Love received a standing ovation; Paramount Classics quickly picked up the U.S. distribution rights. ”Venice has been special for me,” says Sorvino, who arrived with French actor beau Olivier Martinez. ”It’s where Mighty Aphrodite had its premiere, and that was my first taste of the world cinema community.”

Monsoon Wedding, a comedy set in India, snagged the top prize, the Golden Lion. Other highlights included Paul McCartney‘s surprise appearance with fiancée Heather Mills to promote the animated film Tuesday, which the ex-Beatle voiced with Dustin Hoffman. Peter Fonda showcased his restored 1971 Western, The Hired Hand. And Martin Scorsese presented two rare early-sound shorts about the Italian-American immigrant experience.

Besides the old guard, Young Hollywood also hit the ancient city. The cast of BullyBrad Renfro, Rachel Miner, Bijou Phillips, and Nick Stahl—admitted to loving the Venetian nightlife. But the party was over one night when they were left, without a car or a handler, to face a crowd of midnight onlookers. ”Rachel,” Renfro said, ”we’re up s—‘s creek without a paddle.” Or up a canal without a gondolier.