Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Shape Of Water Film Review

I'm so behind with my film reviews, (I will have them ready for Oscar Night!), but not all of the films nominated at tonight's BAFTAs have actually opened in the UK yet. However I saw The Shape of Water on Friday, directed by Guillermo del Toro, and it was a dreamily funny and romantic tale of love, and I'm going with this as the big winner for tonight's BAFTAs.

Sally Hawkins is the mute Elisa Esposito, living above a gloriously faded cinema, and neighbour to the wonderful Richard Jenkins' Giles. We are told in the voiceover that the story is set in the time of a fair prince, so I guess Kennedy, and put the film circa 1963. The music by Alexandre Desplat immediately draws us in to Elisa's morning routine. Like clockwork she times her eggs while having an orgasm in the bath. And drops dinner off for Giles before she starts her nightly cleaning job. For Elisa mops the floors of the government's Metropolis like Occam research facility, with Octavia Spencer's exotically named Zelda Delilah. Women are the help here, and all the scientists in white coats are men.

But tonight is a special night because the scientists have a new specimen. Delivered by Michael Shannon's Colonel Richard Strickland. Elisa is captivated and taps the glass. Everyone panics when the specimen reacts, and the girls are bundled out of the laboratory.

However one night in the corridor outside they see Strickland covered in blood, and are brought in to clean up the mess. His two fingers are found and returned, although after Elisa placed them carefully in her lunch bag, they are a little sticky with mustard. Never mind they are duly reapplied, and Strickland is very thankful. In explaining Elisa's muteness, Zelda tells him that she was found in water as a baby, and has no parents. He becomes as fascinated with Elisa's muteness and the scars on her neck, as she is with the creature in the tank.

Elisa spends her days with Giles who works from home creating ads for his previous Ad Agency, and hoping to get taken back on the payroll. A great artist he is a recovering alcoholic, bemoaning his hair loss, and taking Elisa to eat Key Lime pie at Dixie Doug's pie shop. A cute waiter catches his attention. I thought how incredibly sad that this clever special man had to hide so much of who he was. But he and Elisa have a great relationship, enjoying watching old musicals on his tiny tv. 

Elisa meanwhile, with her love of musicals spilling into her daily life, is actually living a double life, enjoying her secret lunch in the laboratory, and feeding eggs to the creature, now kept in a pool. He turns out to love eggs, even in shells. Revered by the Amazonian locals who treat him as a god, he is a specimen to Strickland and his boss General Hoyt, played by Nick Searcy. And the military wants to use him for research during this time of the Arms Race. Because with Russia sending a monkey into space, this humanoid like merman is a great prize for the Americans, and the Russians are very keen to acquire him too. And vivisection is his future.

As Elisa becomes more attracted to her merman, she communicates with him in sign language, and is one day overseen by Dr. Robert Hoffstetler. Played by Michael Stuhlbarg, he himself has a secret he wants to keep hidden. But when Elisa finds out her merman's future she begs Giles to help her. Breaking the law is something Giles is not very keen to do, but he is eventually persuaded.

The merman safely rescued and now in Elisa's bath, and with Strickland nursing more than a damaged fender on his new teal Cadillac, his balls are on the line, as he sets out to find who stole his prize specimen. Elisa is told by Zelda to act normal, while Giles' new life is anything but normal. Babysitting a fish who he discovers, quite poetically really, likes the taste of cat.

But wondrous things are going to happen for Elisa and Giles. So fantastical you won't believe them until you see them. Because I think Guillermo has dreamed really big with his glorious 50's style Sci-fi/Cold War The Shape of Water. And has already won Best Director prize at the Golden Globes. The production design by Paul D. Austerberry is beautiful. And I loved Elisa's costumes by Luis Sequeira. Perfect 9-5 workwear in muted shades but with a splash of lusty red.  And Guillermo said he was inspired always by Powell & Pressburger, and we can see the red shoes above.

And Sally Hawkins is poetic as Elisa. A dreamer who through love discovers her voice. Michael Shannon is the real monster in the movie, and Octavia Spencer, huge shout out here to Hidden Figures, is the acting gift that just keeps on giving.

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