Lauding 'Liaison'

At its premiere Saturday at the Venice Film Festival, critics gave "A Pornographic Liaison" a solid 10 minutes of applause. The steamy "Liaison," starring France's Nathalie Baye and directed by 31-year-old Frederic Fonteyne of Belgium, centers on a nameless couple who meet in a hotel once a week to realize a mutual erotic fantasy. Calling it a contender for the top prize, the Golden Lion, critics said it eclipsed "Holy Smoke," by Australian Jane Campion.

By order of the pope, Cardinal Paul Poupard was at the festival, hobnobbing in his clerical vestments with Hollywood types to promote the Vatican's own cinema gala. He emphasized he wouldn't have time to greet the celebrities in attendance or view any of the films being shown. That included "Liaison" as well as early favorite "Holy Smoke," a Kate Winslet vehicle about a cult deprogrammer on the trail of a young woman who follows her guru to India.

The 56th annual film fest ends Sept. 11, when a lifetime achievement award will be presented to Jerry Lewis.

A Material Daughter?

Madonna has been observed house-hunting in London, where she reportedly hopes to secure a space for her daughter, Lourdes, in an exclusive school.

Her 2-year-old is on the waiting list for the Lycee Francais Charles de Gaulle, the Sun reported last week. Tuition for the school, which caters mostly to French families living and working in London, costs $1,600 a term.

Lourdes would begin when she turns 4; the Millennium Mama wants her child to have an international education. In addition to the language of love, the singer is said to be fluent in Italian and very good at French and Spanish.

Sniff and Tell

In the spirit of full disclosure (as opposed to certain Americans we can think of), Lord Frederick Windsor, 28th in line to the British throne, has admitted to snorting cocaine, but his mother said yesterday she is confident he won't do it again.

The 20-year old Lord Fred, whose father, Prince Michael of Kent, is a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth, admitted using the drug at a party in London three months ago.

"I brought my children up to be anti-drugs," Princess Michael of Kent said in a statement. "I am disappointed that he experimented in this way, but he has assured me that he will not do it again, and I believe him."

Lord Frederick was confronted by British reporters in New York, where has been working for a finance company during the summer break from his studies at Oxford. The Sunday Times quotes him as saying: "It is very difficult to avoid getting into this sort of thing. But I don't blame anyone else for the incident, I have now rejected that side of life and I'm going to commit myself to my studies."

That would be Greek and Latin, with an impromptu minor in public relations.

A Bridge Natural

After a 14-hour match in London, millionaire bridge champion Zia Mahmood defeated seven computers yesterday. "It was much more difficult than I anticipated," said Zia, who won $10,000. "I was petrified a lot of the time." Zia, who lives in New York, has represented Pakistan in international events and played in gambling marathons against actor and bridge champion Omar Sharif.

CAPTION: An education in England for Madonna's sweet Lourdes? Oui, oui! Below, "Holy Smoke," it's Kate Winslet in Venice.