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Thursday 19 April 2018

The Shape of Water, Film 2017, written and directed by Guillermo del Toro starring Sally Hawkins, 7.5* out of 10

Big Oscar Winner of 2018, Guillermo del Toro's 1960s fantasy is a simplistic politically correct fairy tale, celebrating "the other". Yet even the most critical viewer will be tempted to surrender to this irresistibly beautiful film.  

It is 1962 in the USA, when nice people were elected President and nasty people joined the military-industrial complex. The mute Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) has a very organised life with a set daily routine, including a daily bout of sexual self-sufficiency in the bath with an egg-timer ensuring it does not make her too late for work. Elisa also has two friends. One is her middle-aged neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) a commercial artist who has fallen on hard times. The gay Giles is a fan of 1930’s musical films featuring Betty Grable and Shirley Temple. Her other friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is a feisty black lady with whom Elisa works as cleaner in a secret underground laboratory complex of the US Department of Defence in Baltimore. 

One day a mysterious humanoidly-handsome water creature caught in the Amazon is brought there by Strickland (Michael Shannon) a brutal careerist working for military intelligence. He and his bosses are afraid of falling behind in the cold war space and scientific race with the Soviets and believe that water-creature vivisection is the path scientific dominance over the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Elisa gains the mistreated creature’s trust and a romantic attachment forms between the two outsiders. A race against the clock begins as Elisa helped by her two friends tries to set the water creature free.

The story of Guillermo del Toro’s movie is largely a remake of some of our favourite fairy tales and iconic films, such as Beauty and the Beast, Frankenstein or ET. Given the watery theme, the “frog prince” comes to mind - with the slight twist that the princess feels sexually attracted to the frog and does not want him to turn into a prince. The characters are helpfully stereotyped to underline the simplicity: white men are evil unless they are gay. Women are good unless they are suburban white housewives. Hofstettler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Soviet spy scientist is the only ambivalent and conflicted character. 

Having said that, it is difficult to escape the attraction of this simple tale of good and evil. Casting is excellent and the actors led by Sally Hawkins do a very good job. But above all it is the captivating visual power of this film with its early 1960s aesthetic (reminiscent of the iconic television series “Mad-Men”) and the magical dream-like watery sequences that win you over.  Designer Paul Austerberry and cinematographer Dan Laustsen are the creators of the atmosphere and of film sequences which together with Paul Desplat's music ensure that The Shape of Water will remain etched into viewers’ memories. 

Watching the Shape of Water all my critical faculties slowly ebbed away; I surrendered to this irresistibly beautiful film. 

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