THESHAPEOFWATER(15)*****

Evening Times - - MOVIES -

MEX­I­CAN film­maker Guillermo del Toro re­cap­tures the visual splen­dour and sim­mer­ing men­ace of his Os­car-win­ning 2006 fan­tasy Pan’s Labyrinth with a swoon-in­duc­ing reimag­in­ing of the Beauty And The Beast fairy tale set in 1962 Bal­ti­more.

The Shape Of Wa­ter is a gor­geous, erot­i­cally-charged love story, which em­pow­ers its richly drawn fe­male char­ac­ters to drive for­ward a tightly-wound nar­ra­tive and de­feat prej­u­dice in its myr­iad ugly forms.

The script, co-writ­ten by del Toro and Vanessa Tay­lor, doesn’t su­gar coat the cen­tral ro­mance be­tween a mute clean­ing lady and a car­niv­o­rous mer­man.

Car­nal de­sires of the spir­ited hero­ine are laid de­light­fully bare in vir­tu­ally the open­ing scene in which she slides into an over­flow­ing bath and plea­sures her­self in the two min­utes it takes to hard boil three eggs for her packed lunch.

Lus­trous pe­riod de­tail evokes an era of suf­fo­cat­ing Cold War para­noia with aplomb, re­flected in snappy di­a­logue like when one kind-hearted 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?” coldly 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 top-se­cret 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

Michael Shan­non and Michael Stuhlbarg star as sol­dier and sci­en­tist

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