BEIRUT: “Water takes the shape of whatever is holding it at the time and although water can be so gentle, it's also the most powerful and malleable force in the universe. That's also love, isn't it? It doesn’t matter what shape we put love into, it becomes that, whether it’s man, woman or creature,” director Guillermo del Toro stated about his latest film The Shape of Water.
Every word he stated is proven after one witnesses what is likely the most beautifully crafted film of 2017, though released in Lebanon this week.
The film tells the fable of mute Elisa who works in a high-security government facility, in Cold War-era America. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda discover a secret classified experiment.
Monster-ful storyteller Guillermo del Toro merges the tragedy and thrills of classic “monster movie” conventions with ethereal film noir and then stirs in the sensuality of a love story like no other to explore the fantasies, the mysteries and the monstrosities that are rooted within us all.
The fluidity in which del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor weave their narrative is downright perfect.
Meticulously crafted where every piece of information delivered and set up is completely paid off and nothing is ignored but rather made significant to the overall narrative.
Ideologically, the film does tackle the indefiniteness of love, all the while regurgitating the evil, sexual harasser, white male via Michael Shannon’s character Richard Strickland - the latter being completely lazy, predictable and the only aspect of the narrative that fell flat.
Nothing about Strickland’s villainous role is complex and many of his character beats are standard in the bully villain archetype.
However, this does not affect the film’s overall brilliance.
A grown-up and more complex version of the Beauty and the Beast fairy-tale, The Shape of Water digs into the nitty-gritty and opens a discourse with the audience about what it means to be human.
What really stands out is the design of iconic creature actor Doug Jones’s Amphibian Man. The color palette and realistic yet magical approach to bringing Amphibian Man to life.
There have been several human-fish hybrids seen on screen before – including Guillermo del Toro’s own Abe Sapien from Hellboy.
For the Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water, del Toro said, “I knew I wanted the creature to feel real but at the same time for it to be beautiful which is a very hard line to tow. This is truly the hardest creature design I have ever done.”
He envisioned raising the bar to a new level of realism, crafting a being of such biological plausibility it might inspire a human woman’s mad passion.
The film’s cinematography and shadowy atmosphere pulled the audience into the depths of the story. Originally meant to be shot in black and white, both del Toro and director of photography Dan Laustsen worked together to craft a more modern, yet desaturated look, full of oceanic tones.
Sally Hawkins is a divine gift to the silver screen. She carries the film in her silence, her emotions, and it is one of the most powerful performances and deserves the Academy Award.
The surrounding cast members are also quite entertaining to watch, but the film belongs to Sally Hawkins’s strength, vulnerability, femininity, and control.
With all the pieces coming together, del Toro, in his own monstrous way, delivers an ode to classic monster movies, to love, and most importantly an ode to the power of the motion picture.
From the creative transitions between scenes that feel more like the ebb and flow of waves, to the melodic score – every element that went into the creation of The Shape of Water fully deserves the Oscar nomination it has received. Guillermo del Toro’s latest film is truly a masterpiece and a fairytale for modern day audiences.
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