The Shape of Water (2017) * * *
Dir: Guillermo del Toro | USA / 119’ | cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer
Last year’s Golden Lion for Best Film went to Guillermo del Toro for this utterly empty second-hand spectacle THE SHAPE OF WATER in a year where the jury and the programme largely lacked imagination (apart from Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, who won the Orizzonti Award for her stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm).
Del Toro’s very thin narrative of a mute woman falling in love with an amphibious creature, used by the CIA at the height of the Cold War, around 1962, is a total rip-off: it uses the main protagonists of Rachel Ingall’s 1986 novel MRS. CALIBAN, the creature itself is a replica of the titular CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Jack Arnold, 1954), and the story is a compilation of countless cold war spy movies of the Eisenhower era, when the Red menace was infiltrating the USA. Clearly no money was spared on design and images, but del Toro’s feature might not have won without the help of Annette Bening, Hollywood actress and – first female – jury president.
In a US government laboratory, two workers (Sally Hawkins and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer) uncover an horrendous secret experiment that the lonely and single Elisa (Hawkins) finds strangely alluring. It involves an amphibious creature (played by Doug Jones) who is infiltrated into the installation and comes under threat by the agent in charge (Michael Shannon), who intends to do away with the beast once it serves its purpose. But Elisa falls strangely in love with the sea creature and puts her own life in danger in her bid to ensure its survival, aided and abetted by her colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer); her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), and kindly scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg in his second strong role of 2017).
Serving as a subtle social critique, there’s a great deal to enjoy in this fluid fantasy film enriched by Alexandre Desplat’s majestic score, but it is by no means the jewel in del Toro’s crown that includes gems such as Cronos (1993), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Hellboy (04) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), for which he received an Oscar nomination for screenwriting. AS
ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16 FEBRUARY 2018 | VENICE 2017 REVIEW