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FNE at Venice 2017: Review: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water, Director Guillermo Del Toro The Shape of Water, Director Guillermo Del Toro

VENICE: Director Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a much needed antidote to cynicism in an increasingly cynical world.  This may just be Del Toro’s best film in a decade with nothing compares to it since his 2006 Pan’s Labyrinth.

We are clearly and unashamedly in the land of fairy tales here with a romantic love story between an orphan and a merman-like water creature. 

The story is set in 1962 in a top-secret government research lab where Elisa played by Sally Hawkins is a mute orphan who works as a cleaner in the lab.  Various government experiments are carried out here behind closed doors in the name of winning the Cold War against the Russians supposedly.  The lonely Elisa is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda played by Octavia Spenser discover a secret classified experiment.

A poor sea creature in the water tank has been brought there from South American because the Cold War era scientists believe the creature may have supernatural powers that will somehow give the USA an edge in winning the Cold War.  But when Elisa looks into the tank she does not see a freak she sees a friend who shares her love of jazz and her silence.  Elisa falls in love with this creature.  It is an all out, romantic fairy tale kind of love. This love is a the more poignant against the backdrop of the cynical Cold War.

As Del Toro has said “For it seems to me that when we speak of love, when we believe in love, we do so in a hopeless way. We fear looking naïve and even disingenuous. But Love is real, absolutely real, and, like water, it is the most gentle and most powerful force in the Universe. It is free and formless until it pours into its recipient, until we let it in. Our eyes are blind. But our soul is not. It recognizes love in whatever shape it comes to us.”

To believe in this fairy tale love story requires a tour de force acting job by Sally Hawkins which she delivers beautifully. 

Her love for the creature leads her to plot a way to free him from his watery prison. But to do this she will have to outwit the villain of the story a federal agent played by Michal Shannon. The film is beautifully shot by Dan Laustsen and the period world is wonderfully recreated.  Music by Alexandre Desplat gives the film an incredible richness and is possibly one of his best film scores.

Ultimately this fairy tale has a moral as most fairy tales do.  Not only do we see the beauty of love and the coming together of two lonely souls but the government agents are determined to kill what they do not understand.

In the hands of less of a master director this could have been a simply family film about a Disney style creature and a simple moral to be learned from the story.  But Del Toro takes this film to another level never allowing it to sink into this territory.

The Shape of Water (USA)
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Morgan Kelly.

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