It did not escape The Academy’s notice that Mexican storyteller Guillermo del Toro has surpassed himself in The Shape of Water. It rewarded his fairy-tale about eggs, sex, loneliness, and fear of the other with thirteen Oscar nominations.
For a long time, Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish films far outstripped his American work. Mimic, Blade II, and Pacific Rim paled in comparison with Cronos, El espinazo del diablo, and El laberinto del fauno.
In 2015, the refined gothic horror film Crimson Peak proved that this curse could be broken, and The Shape of Water has vanquished it for good. Del Toro is at his best when he unleashes his imagination on dark fairy-tales for adults that have a good balance between form and content, entertainment and artistry, politics and magic.
A mysterious swamp creature is being kept in the water tank of a shadowy military-scientific laboratory in an America suffering from Cold War-induced paranoia. A fascist soldier (Michael Shannon) wants to make the humanoid amphibian talk by torturing him. Soviet spies wait for their chance to take advantage.
But the mute janitor (a stellar performance from Sally Hawkins) secretly treats him to boiled eggs, dance, music, and the other joys of life. A passionate love grows between these two lonely, wordless souls that would make many lovers green with envy.
But can it blossom in an America dominated by racist, homophobic, white brutes who are only interested in shiny cars and look down on (or worse, attack) everything and everyone different? Don’t spend too much time looking for contemporary relevance. It’s there, pure and simple.
The winner of the Golden Lion in Venice is also a joy to watch thanks to its wondrous sets, irresistible stylization, and sumptuous camerawork. In Del Toro’s work, enchanting is not the same thing as saccharine or moronic.
He juggles with various genres, referring to B-movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon, comedies with Shirley Temple, and the incredible dance films of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, but he uses them all to weave his own poetry. Arming by being disarming.
> The Shape of Water. US, dir.: Guillermo del Toro, act.: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer