Tenacious women have taken centre stage at the start of the Venice film festival, with captivating tales of self-discovery in which female characters face internal demons and change forever. In the Hollywood space thriller \"Gravity\", Italian comic drama \"A Street in Palermo\" and Australian travel epic \"Tracks\", women get one over male characters who end up defeated, redundant or dead. In Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron\'s \"Gravity\", Sandra Bullock plays an astronaut who must fight to survive after she is flung into deep space when a debris storm destroys the shuttle she is on. Separated from her fellow astronaut, George Clooney, her search to finally accept her daughter\'s death and embrace life again becomes the vessel for the film\'s message of overcoming adversity. \"The film begs the question, what is it that gets you up every morning to try harder?\" Bullock told journalists at the world\'s oldest film festival on Venice\'s Lido island. \"People who experience loss physically transform as well, and I worked to remove everything that was maternal or feminine about my character. The ending can be seen as a sort of re-birth, a re-discovery of the heroine\'s femininity,\" she said. The star, who spent much of the shoot hanging alone on a 20-foot (six-metre) cable in a special cube created to mimic outer space, said the experience of making the film mirrored her character\'s trials. \"It was a physical and mental challenge. You find out what you are made of,\" she said. The theme of solitude as a tool to aid self-discovery returns in American John Curran\'s \"Tracks\", one of 20 films in competition for this year\'s Golden Lion award and another flick to focus almost exclusively on the trials of a female lead. Based on the real-life journey of Robyn Davidson, who in 1977 walked for 1,700 miles (2,746 kilometres) across the Australian desert aged 27 with just her dog and four camels for company, the film is a nostalgic throwback to a pre-communications age. Beautifully shot, with evocative images of deserted grass plains and terrifying moments in sand dunes, the film\'s intimate portrayal of Davidson\'s struggle is almost overwhelming to watch. As the distances lengthen between ports of civilisation and the difficulties increase -- at one point she loses her compass -- the character wanders blindly, naked and increasingly burnt, accompanied just by the sound of the camels\' bellows. Davidson -- played by Australia\'s Mia Wasikowska -- told AFP the journey was \"transformative in all sort of ways\". \"I came together as a person. On that sort of journey, in that landscape, you go through changes in consciousness,\" she said. At one point in the script -- written by Davidson -- her character sums up the drive to undergo the journey, saying: \"Once you\'ve been still too long, it\'s best to throw a grenade where you are standing -- and jump, and pray.\" Curran said he thought the story would \"resonate with young people today even more so than before, because in this Wifi age there is an increasing desire to disconnect, get away and be truly alone.\" Communication is also key in Italian theatre director Emma Dante\'s film debut, \"A Street in Palermo\", a tale about a staring match between two women in their cars in Palermo. A witty portrayal of southern Italian society with references to Western films, it centres around two characters -- an elderly matriarch treated as an outcast and a stubborn youngster who fears her girlfriend will leave her. Both women end up using the silent stand-off -- which lasts all day and night as neither will reverse her car and let the other pass -- as a means to exercise their anger and frustration, discovering in the process how similar they are. \"Facing off gives them the ability to look inside themselves. It is like looking in a mirror and seeing a Minotaur, a monster,\" Dante said. \"Each one of us is a monster, but what makes us human is our ability to change,\" she said. Dante said her film\'s message is that society would benefit \"from falling off that precipice. It really would help us.\"