Highlights from Venice film festival: the Oscars launchpad
Downsizing with Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig has the opening slot. Also in the line-up: George Clooney’s Suburbicon, Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow, and Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in a drama about Pablo Escobar
The 74th Venice film festival gets underway Wednesday with Alexander Payne’s sci-fi satire Downsizing in the high-profile opening slot that is increasingly coveted as a launch pad for the Oscars.
Starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, Sideways director Payne’s latest quirky creation is a tale of a lower middle class couple in the US Midwest.
But the downsizing of the title is not a reference to job losses or selling the family house: instead the pair are considering signing up for radical new surgery that would allow them to be shrunk to tiny versions of themselves, on the promise of a better life.
Whether it does is likely to depend on how critics react to the film’s intriguing plot, which Variety described as “Honey I Shrunk the Kids with a deeper social message”.
Directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli, with Danish actress Trine Dryholm in the lead role, the story catches up with the iconic figure in 1987 and 1988, the last two years of her life.
It finds her battling a heroin habit, but also finding fulfilment through her music and her relationship with her son.
Downsizing is one of 21 films competing for Venice’s top prize, the Golden Lion, which will be handed out on September 9, along with a string of other awards including the first for films in a new competition for virtual reality productions.
As usual, the international film line-up at Venice ranges from big-budget Hollywood productions, like George Clooney’s sixth directorial outing, Suburbicon, to new works by indie favourites Andrew Haigh and Warwick Thornton, documentaries such as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s epic look at the global refugee crisis, Human Flow.
In total, 71 new full-length films will be shown over the next 10 days, along with 16 short films and two TV series.
The theme of love after a certain age is also addressed in Leisure Seeker, in which Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland star as an independent, free-spirited couple coming to terms with Alzheimer’s.
Bardem is also to be seen playing opposite Jennifer Lawrence in mother!, a new film by Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky, that is one of several thrillers vying for honours.
Promoted by a Mother’s Day-release of a poster showing Lawrence holding her own bloodied heart, the film tells the tale of a couple thrown into turmoil by uninvited guests.
Another spine-chiller features Ethan Hawke in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, which turns around a dark secret harboured by members of a church who are tormented by the deaths of loved ones.
British director Frears is to be honoured on Sunday for his innovative contribution to cinema, ahead of the screening of his new work, in which Judi Dench stars as Victoria, opposite Bollywood actor Ali Fazal.