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Del Toro's "The Shape of Water" making waves in Hollywood's awards season
Last Updated: 2018-01-04 00:00 | Xinhua
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Though not yet a box office smash, Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" is making waves on the entertainment award circuit, racking up a slew of high profile nominations and awards since its release on December 1.

It snagged 14 Critics Choice Awards nominations, seven coveted Golden Globe awards nominations, two Screen Actors Guild nominations for Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins, and won the prestigious Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion Award, the American Film Institute's Movie of the Year Award. It also piled up another 43 other wins and 111 nominations worldwide.

With the Academy Award nominations coming up on January 23, speculation is high that "The Shape of Water" will make a big splash at the Oscars.

From the opening dream sequence depicting a gently spinning 1950's Formica table and chair set afloat in a flooded, womblike bunker, we are inexorably drawn into the exotic and strangely compelling "del Toro-land."

Variety calls the film "a ravishing, eccentric auteur's imagining, spilling artistry, empathy and sensuality from every open pore...this is incontestably del Toro's most rewarding, richly realized film ...since 2006's 'Pan's Labyrinth'."

A mature, yet childlike love story, "The Shape of Water" is based on an idea Del Toro had as a boy when he first saw the 1950's cult creature classic, "Creature of the Black Lagoon." It's taken him almost fifty years to bring it to the screen.

"I watched 'Creature From The Black Lagoon,' and there's a beautiful, very simple, very poetic image, very fairy tale-like, of Julie Adams in a white bathing suit swimming on the surface and the creature, the Gill-man, swimming underneath many, many feet below, looking at her. It's a gorgeous scene...I so loved the encapsulation of the yearning and all that," writer-director Guillermo Del Toro recounted during a recent interview with Fresh Air.

Del Toro is at his best when he crosses into a mystical realm which combines insightful political commentary with magical realism to make his insights more palatable as he did brilliantly in "Pan's Labyrinth" and has done again in "The Shape of Water."

Slashfilms.com unapologetically raved, "Thank the movie gods for Guillermo del Toro. One of our best living filmmakers. Del Toro crafts gorgeous, poetic films that combine genres to great effect. No one working today is making movies like the 'Crimson Peak' filmmaker, and with 'The Shape of Water,' del Toro may have made his masterpiece."

In this complex genre-bending, socio-political parable, Del Toro gives voice to the voiceless, pitting innocence and love against the powers of evil in a film he describes as "a fable for troubled times."

"The movie is about today...We're living in a time where we demonize the Other. We are told we've got to fear, everywhere, constantly," Del Toro explained to Xinhua. "Why do we have to divide the world between 'us' and 'them'? Whether its race, religion, government, sexual preference, gender - anything that creates this fake division between us and them - there is only us."

Part Cold War film noir, part Parisian romance, part 1940's Hollywood musical, part B-monster flick, "The Shape of Water" is Del Toro's cinematic valentine to a vanishing era and a fairytale ode to love.

At root, it's a love affair, in fact, several love affairs, as producer J. Miles Dale told Xinhua during a recent panel discussion, "it was really a love letter to love, and the importance of love over hate, and love over fear, with everything that's going on these days, and how it's so easy to be ironic or cynical and look smart, but it's hard to wear your heart on your sleeve."

It begins as a love affair to film itself, shot by gifted cinematographer, Dan Lausten, in darkly vivid organic colors that create a brooding atmosphere of decay that makes the lead character, Elisa Esposito's, indomitable spirit all the more miraculous.

Then it evolves into a love affair between two lost souls, each completing the other. On one side is Elisa, a plain, angular woman played with delicate nuance and grace by Sally Hawkins. Elisa lives in a world full of sound, music, and dialogue, yet is, herself, mute.

On the other side is a mysterious, intelligent, aquatic creature, imprisoned, abused and badly in need of a rescue from the secret government laboratory where Elisa works as a cleaning lady.

Already a favorite for an Oscar nom, Variety lauded Hawkins' performance as "a heart-clutching silent star turn" that "lit (the film) from within."

Hawkins herself said of the role of Elisa, "Finding the purity of Elisa, and getting her soul right - her energy, her essence - was such a delicate, fine thing. That purity of her soul was important. She has a real gentleness of heart, and yet there's a real strength within her. I feel that so strongly because I think it's something we are often really, really missing in this world...True innocence, and true purity of being, has been lost."

Her charming naivete, childlike innocence and budding sexuality make her subsequent love affair with the princely merman seem an inevitable, even natural conclusion that lifts this feminist fairytale to a higher realm.

Also worthy of note is Elisa's neighbor, Giles, a beguiling eccentric and failing advertising illustrator being phased out by the advent of photography, beautifully played by Oscar-nominee, Richard Jenkins.

Jenkins was enthralled with the director and production designer, Paul Denham Austerberry's exquisite labor of love. He told Xinhua, "when I walked into that set, I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. This guy speaks in film language. All those colors - it's glorious. It was the most beautiful 'poverty' I'd ever seen."

Elisa's other cohort in crime is engagingly embodied by Academy Award-winner, Octavia Spencer, a goodhearted chatterbox with a sullen, uncommunicative husband and a soft spot for Elisa. She loyally helps her friend to free the condemned merman.

Though arguably a monster flick, the real monster in this fable is not the exotic aquaman, played subtly by the brilliant Doug Jones, but federal agent Strickland, viscously portrayed by two-time Academy Award-nominee, Michael Shannon, assigned to interrogate the noble creature at the behest of a soulless general out to gain an advantage over the Soviets during the height of the Cold War.

Del Toro told Xinhua, "If this movie had been made in the 60's, Agent Strickland would have been the hero and our River God, the monster."

Collider commends the "The Shape of Water" as a timely, Cassandra-like fable that warns us of the dangers of bigotry and soulless authority. "It reinforces a faith in humanity set in a time where tolerance of other races, nationalities, and non-'family values' love is volatile."

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