Amidst boy-loves-girl, girl-loves-boy sagas, you have a girl-loves-amphibian-creature and that's cue enough to try The Shape of Water, in case, the 13 Oscar nominations aren't enough to convince you.
Set in the 60s of Baltimore, US, not just evident by the art work, but also because of the numerous references to the American-Russian Cold war, the movie follows a mute lonely janitor, Elisa Esposito (a brilliant Sally Hawkins), who forms a unique relationship with an amphibian creature or “asset” as it or he is referred to throughout the movie.
The first shot of the movie, courtesy some soothing and moving cinematography by Dan Laustsen, has an odd semblance to the scene in The Titanic that shows the ruins.
The narration quickly takes us back to the meek Elisa who follows a monotonous routine to the T. She does almost everything to perfection, including her daily routine of boiling eggs, masturbating in her bath, meticulously polishing her shoes, waiting for the bus that would take her to her graveyard shift, etc, except making it to her clinical laboratory on time. She's saved by her colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer in a strong supporting role) who holds her place and acts as an interpreter at work. In return, Elisa returns the favour by listening to her many rants about the latter's “useless” husband. To be fair to Elisa, she can only listen.
Elisa's almost uneventful life takes a turn for the better when she starts bonding with the “asset”, brought to the laboratory for high-end defence work, even culminating in a coitus. Don't ask us how. Cinematic liberties that Hollywood gets right on a rare occasion like this.
Soon, its about one outcast reaching out to another. But even for a film that prides itself to be adventurous, you have the proverbial villain who wants to dissect the “asset” into pieces and the drama that follows including the final face-off between the bad guy and a good amphibian in this case. Who wins the battle? Does Elisa reunite with her “love”? A cliched climax saved by an unconventional epilogue has the answer.
Rich with jaw-dropping performances, Guillermo del Toro ensures that connoisseurs of “arty” movies will have a lot to take home in The Shape of Water. It is suffice to say that del Toro has mastered the art of magic realism and is a far cry from the gory Blade II days.
One has seen various modern re-telling of The Beauty and the Beast but what really sets The Shape of Water apart is the mixing up of the genres - the film oscillates between being a romantic movie to one with political undertones.
Taking a serious approach all throughout, scenes that provide comic relief are subtle and very far and few in between. Aficionados of commercial cinema might not appreciate the snail's pace at which the film travels, certainly not helped by the opera-ish music by Alexandre Desplat, unless you are a fan. To be fair, the music by itself is soothing and elevates the spectacle that plays out on the screen, but may not work for an audience that loves pace. And contrast this with the hurried climax, a cliched villain and a happy ending. Yes, happy ending since it removes the realism from the movie. The magic, stays though.
After all, love doesn't have any shape, does it, even if it happens to be one between inter-species?