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Matt Damon kicks off Venice Film Festival with Downsizing

Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig kicked off the 2017 Venice Film Festival in Italy on Wednesday (30Aug17), as the Oscars race officially began.

The two stars' new Alexander Payne film Downsizing opened the festival, which in recent years featured the world premieres of movies like La La Land, Spotlight, Birdman, and Gravity, which all went on to taste glory at the Academy Awards.

Downsizing, in which Damon plays a shrunken man, has become an early contender for Best Picture at the 2018 Oscars, and critics at Venice are raving about director Payne's new film.

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy claims it's the Sideways and The Descendants filmmaker's best, calling it "moving and beautiful".

The start of the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday was also marked by jury president Annette Bening's comments about the lack of women directors in the competition - only one is up for a main prize.

"We have a long way to go in terms of parity," Bening said at a press conference, "but I think the direction we are going is positive."

And Wiig, Damon's Downsizing co-star, was also a talking point, showing up for the opening ceremony at the Sala Casino in a stunning Prabal Gurung dress and dripping with Bulgari jewelry, including high jewelry earrings in white gold with two cabochon cut rubies, 38 buff-top cut rubies, and four round brilliant cut diamonds and pave-set diamonds.

Meanwhile, Damon will be doubling up at Venice - he will also premiere his new period comedy Suburbicon at the festival, alongside his director George Clooney. In the picture, Damon plays a suburban dad at war with the Mafia.

Guillermo Del Toro will also debut his new fairytale The Shape of Water at Venice and Darren Aronofsky is set to premiere his latest film, Mother!, which stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. Other films in competition include Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei's refugee documentary Human Flow, Paul Schrader's First Reformed and director Paolo Virzi's The Leisure Seeker.

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford will be celebrated with the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award at the festival, and their new film, Our Souls at Night, will premiere out of competition.