Awarded the Golden Lion at the last Venice Film Festival, The Shape of Water was released two years after a visually impeccable Crimson Peak, but shunned by a majority of spectators. Rest assured, Guillermo Del Toro has lost none of his know-how.
Often considered elitist, certain festivals like Cannes or the Mostra are shunned by the general public. This 2017 edition seems to prove him wrong, however, by rewarding works that are less hermetic than in previous years.
This is the case of The Square , a comedy (admittedly dramatic) which pinpoints the attitude of certain humanist lesson-givers, but also of The Shape of Water , which won the ultimate prize in Venice. The Mexican succeeds Lav Diaz and La Femme qui est partie , a Filipino chronicle of revenge spanning almost four hours. A big gap that is pleasant to point out, especially since Guillermo del Toro already enjoys considerable exposure.
It must be said that he is a chameleon, oscillating between poetic works ( The Devil’s Backbone , Pan’s Labyrinth …) and blockbusters which still bear the signature of this Hollywood infiltrator ( Hellboy , Pacific Rim …).
Style exercise (s)
The Shape of Water , which evokes the romance between Elisa, a silent and lonely young woman and an amphibian monster caged by the government, definitely falls into the first category. Whatever the type of production, the director never ceases to demonstrate his talents as a director. And this is no exception to the rule.
By anchoring his story in the heart of the sixties, the director departs from the gothic aspect to which he had accustomed us. The light is warmer in Eliza’s home, and clashes with the retrofuturistic side of the laboratory in which she works. The film is bathed in greenish tones that are reminiscent of the beast itself, but also works like Bioshock or Fallout .
Preferring latex suits to digital special effects, Del Toro creates a monster (Doug Jones) who looks like us. Clearly inspired by The Strange Creature of the Black Lagoon , the costume never completely erases the human attributes of the latter, thus making possible a true form of compassion. Unlike his other films, Del Toro trades fear for love to achieve his ends.
A wise choice, especially in the face of those who see him as a cursed Tim Burton, locked in the overly formal mastery of his style. A criticism formulated since his last films, which clearly favored form over substance. The feature film does not fall into this pitfall, and weaves a critical vision of American society at the time.
Mixture of genres
Thus, and despite an intimate relationship to say the least improbable, the film lets filter mature themes such as sex, machismo or racism. As he had done with the Spanish conflict before, the director uses the Cold War to build a realistic atmosphere around an initial situation that is not.
The character of Strickland (excellent Michael Shannon), completely obsessed with performance, represents this patriarchal vision of the country well. In front of him Eliza (Sally Hawkins) delivers a subtle and touching performance, well supported by the humor of Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer).
Del Toro completes the picture by evoking espionage with a few scenes whose violence clashes with the light tone of the main romance. It is by respecting this fragile balance that the Mexican manages to get the best of these two genre films, which have no difficulty in living together in a common rhythm.
He even allows himself nice musical digressions, led by an inspired Alexandre Desplat, without hiding his admiration for the America of Fred Astaire. This lyrical atmosphere helps to forget certain postulates of writing, to say the least unusual, which suggest that a simple cleaning lady can have access to such a confidential place.
More than a simple rereading of Beauty and the Beast , the feature film highlights two individuals who are prevented by nature from a normal life in society. One for his physical appearance, the other for his handicap.
But unlike the figure of King Kong, the creature this time is worthy of affection. A reformer of fantasy cinema, now Del Toro is redistributing the cards in love. A proposal that it would be monstrous to refuse …