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The 74th Venice International Film Festival opens Wednesday with the world premiere of Alexander Payne’s new film Downsizing. Venice’s opening slot has been called a good luck charm in the past — proving Oscar victory for previous opening films including Gravity, Birdman and La La Land — and early buzz on the Lido has called the Matt Damon starrer a clear awards contender.
The Paramount comedy imagines a not-so-distant future where humans can shrink themselves to help save the planet’s resources, and to live a luxury-lifestyle for a small-sized salary. Damon and Kristen Wiig play a husband and wife who realize they’ll never be able to afford their dream house, and therefore explore the idea of “downsizing,” a new technology that miniaturizes humans without any known side effects. They explore the new miniature compound Leisureland, where Laura Linney models an $83 platinum diamond (miniaturized) set and Neil Patrick Harris shows off his dream house, which can be had for a fraction of the price of its human-sized equivalent.
During a press conference in Venice, Payne admitted he consulted with experts on the physics of human shrinkage, but their input didn’t greatly affect the final product, which imagined a world in infinite small detail, thanks to the work of production designer Stefania Cella (The Great Beauty, Loro). “Really, if you were that small, the quality of your voice would change, how you walked would be different. You could survive a fall from a high height. If you strapped wooden sticks to your arms, you could probably fly a little bit,” said Payne. “But at a certain point we had to stop caring about that, because we really just cared about the story.”
According to producer and co-writer Jim Taylor, the film’s timeliness, such as addressing the imminence of climate change and the rights of refugees, was accidental. “We’ve been working on this for over 10 years, so a lot of things have sort of caught up with the movie in a way that we didn’t realize we were going to be living in exactly this world that we’re living today,” he explained.
Although the film’s plot has the apocalypse looming over its characters’ heads, Damon believes the film is, at its core, optimistic. “I think in terms of my role in the bigger picture, I really do believe that movies are the greatest tool for empathy that we have,” he explained. “[Downsizing] shows a relatable character whose life is different from our own but whom we can find common cause with. Ultimately, I think it’s a beautiful and optimistic movie. There’s this sense that we’re all in this together. I feel that is a very hopeful message in a very divided world.”
Added co-star Hong Chau, “It was still a love story in the end, and a story of how we treat each other, even though there are topics of climate change and immigration. It is still a human story of how you treat your neighbor.”
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