By Rachel F. Elson
Updated August 27, 2003 04:12 PM

In spite of all its beauty and enticements, Venice has been unable to lure American film great Woody Allen to its annual celluloid spectacular — until now. Allen kicked off the Venice Film Festival for the first time Wednesday with the world premiere of his new film, “Anything Else,” which also stars Christina Ricci, Jason Biggs and Danny DeVito. Joining Ricci and Biggs at a press conference for the film, the director sounded contrite over the delay.

“Last year I went to the Cannes Film Festival because the French people have been so supportive of my films…and I think I had to make some gesture of affection in return,” said Allen, 68. “And I feel the same way with the Italians. They are extremely supportive of my movies over the years and they have invited my to the film festival many times and I always make an excuse and don’t come. But I just owed it to the Italian people and French people to come to these festivals out of reciprocity for my movies.”

Although Allen’s last film, “Hollywood Ending,” premiered at Cannes last year, his previous eight films debuted at the Venice festival, the Associated Press noted. Allen himself, however, has stayed away from the event — though not from the city itself: He wed wife Soon-Yi there in 1997, and he has contributed to the effort to rebuild the fire-scarred La Fenice opera house.

The Venice fest, which will screen more than 140 works over the next two weeks, expects red carpet showings from numerous A-list stars, including Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek, Nicole Kidman, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones.