Shape of Water, The (2017)

Review #1,537

Director:  Guillermo del Toro
Cast:  Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg
Plot:  At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

Genre:  Drama / Fantasy
Awards:  Won Golden Lion (Venice).  Won 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design, Best Original Score.  Nom. for 9 Oscars - Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing
Runtime:  123 mins
Rating:  M18 (passed clean) for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language 
Distributor:  20th Century Fox

“Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me.  Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, For You are everywhere.”

The unexpected winner of the Venice Golden Lion (a Hollywood style 'fairy tale' movie rarely wins a big prize at major festivals), The Shape of Water is one of 2017’s acclaimed films, but while there are reasons to anticipate it, that doesn’t always translate into a genuinely satisfying experience.  It’s a beautiful film, but I am not so sure whether Guillermo del Toro should have won the Golden Globe for Best Director (Christopher Nolan had a stronger film in Dunkirk and showed astonishing grasp in narrative dexterity and technical prowess).  

Still, there’s enough in The Shape of Water to make you believe in the magic of movies, notably its unbridled sense of old-school romanticism.  Set in the Cold War, the film centers on a mute lady named Elisa (played with affecting grace by the underrated Sally Hawkins) who works the night shift as a janitor at a guarded government facility.  One day, an amphibian-like creature, which could pass off as a human if it wore a full suit and helmet, is brought to the facility to be violently assessed.  Elisa inevitably develops a deep—and romantic—connection with it.  

Wherever you think the plotting would go is probably what would happen, which is why the film’s conventional and predictable narrative trappings seem too transparent—which is the pet peeve I have with del Toro's work.  Stripped to its barest, The Shape of Water is one of the filmmaker’s slightest of movies—but del Toro has packed it with lots of visual heft to mesmerise the viewer.   

Inspired by everything from Golden Age Hollywood musicals to Cold War intrigue, The Shape of Water is a period film to soak into—and quite literally as del Toro submerges us in water from the prologue.  The film’s ethereal quality then gives in to reality, and it is how the ethereal tries to carve itself a space (cue bathroom), or as a fleeting moment (notice how one shot shows two water droplets chasing each other across a moving bus window, reminding of that whirlwind dance in space between the two robots in 2008’s Wall.E), that finds del Toro at his very best.  

While the big picture leaves something to be desired, the film’s visual flourishes and the director’s envisioning of a beautiful inner world despite the brutal real world of human politics and sadism will certainly charm audiences.  If this takes home the Oscar for Best Picture, I won’t be entirely surprised.  

Verdict:  There’s an unbridled sense of old-school romanticism in del Toro’s latest work, which just about hides its conventional narrative trappings.





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