Fishing for love in improbable places
THE SHAPE OF WATER (15, 123 mins)
MEXICAN filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s reimagining of the Beauty And The Beast fairy tale set in 1962 Baltimore is an erotically-charged love story which empowers its richly drawn female characters to defeat prejudice in its myriad ugly forms.
The script, co-written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, doesn’t sugarcoat the central romance between a mute cleaning lady and a carnivorous merman.
Lustrous period detail evokes an era of suffocating Cold War paranoia with aplomb, reflected in snappy dialogue like when one kindhearted scientist argues that it would be unconscionable to vivisect any creature capable of understanding and emotions.
“So are the Soviets – and we still kill them, don’t we?” retorts a US soldier.
The story’s “princess without a voice” is Elisa (Sally Hawkins). She works as a cleaner alongside sharp-tongued pal Zelda (Octavia Spencer) at Occam Aerospace Research Centre, a topsecret US government site where scientist Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) conducts experiments to propel America ahead of the Soviet Union in the space race.
Cleaning supervisor Fleming (David Hewlett) calls together staff to relate exciting news about the arrival of “the most sensitive asset ever to be housed in this facility”.
Soon after, Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) shepherds a large metal container into one of the laboratories.
Inside is a beguiling aquatic creature (Doug Jones), which Strickland boasts he “dragged out of the river muck in South America”.
Elisa becomes emotionally attached to the merman, using sign language and music as a crude yet effective form of communication.
They eventually fall in love and the cleaner hatches a hare-brained plan to smuggle her webfooted paramour out of the facility so he can be returned to the wild.
“It is not even human,” argues scaredy-cat neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins).
“If we don’t do something,” replies Elisa furiously, “neither are we.”
The Shape Of Water delivers on the dizzying promise of 13 Oscar and 12 Bafta nominations, conjuring an intoxicating spell through mesmerising performances, sharp writing and del Toro’s directorial daring.
The Shape of Water