Water makes room for whatever it surrounds, and Guillermo del Toro’s new film “The Shape Of Water” makes room for a lot. Not only does del Toro write and direct, but he also dubs some of his imaginative sea creature’s vocals. A fable, a fairy tale, an allegory, a 1940’s musical with 1960 Cold War spy underpinnings, no matter. It is a delight held together by an unusual romance, beautiful cinematography, and actors who seem to love their roles.
The score under Alexandre Despalt’s direction splashes our psyches with just the right tempos to keep us smiling and cowering in equal measure. Del Toro is the kind of man we all want for a friend. He applauds art, understands sex, is masterful, funny, campy, and frank. He seems as magical as the art he creates. Guillermo’s Mexican Catholic upbringing pushes toward a humanist warmth that encompasses amphibian creatures and cats.
The “Shape Of Water’ begins with water bubbles, sea grass and lab lights, and morphs into floating furniture~mid-century kitchen table and chairs to be exact. Our narrator in a crome-like voice muses: “ If I spoke about it , what would I tell you?” We are hooked.
Our setting is in a coastal city, far away. Baltimore! Our protagonist, a princess without a voice~ a mute mop girl, Eliza. ( Sally Hawkins) Our theme is a tale of love and loss transformed.
Eliza lives over a movie theater. She has two close friends, a gay, out-of-work artist, Giles ( Richard Jenkins) , and a loyal work friend, Zelda ( Octavia Spencer). Zelda and Eliza have a Fascist boss (Michael Shannon), who taunts a specimen with a cattle prod and loses two “tater-tot” fingers while wrestling the scaled creature kept quartered in the lab. Doug Jones ( Jones is an Indianapolis native, who learned to swim at The Riviera Club. He is a graduate of Bishop Chatard and Ball State University. ) plays the teal-marked reptilian rumored to be a god dragged from a South American river. Eliza is empathetically drawn to him and teaches him the words “egg” and “music”. The boss wants to dissect and mimick his two systemed breathing . The Russians are interested, too.
Eliza has found a soulmate to save. Their encounters are magical. Russian spy and lab scientist infiltrator, Bob Hostetler , aka Dimitri ( Michael Stuhlbarg ) agrees to help Eliza. The calendar reads Oct. 10th, “Life is but the shipwreck of our plans”. Suspense and fantasy merge and pure campiness holds it all in shimmering amber light. Enjoy stabs at car ownership, Cadillacs , in particular, the art of positive thinking, and Carmen Maranda’s “chicka boom-boom” . This film has it all.