See It: The Shape of Water

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Many thanks to Peg for the chance to see this ahead of release. We were both saying that it will be great to see it again on a big screen. It’s del Toro, so of course it’s just a lovely lovely film on the visual level: the greens and the reds! Breathtaking. The cast of course are wonderful: Sally Hawkins always is, ditto Octavia Spencer and of course Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Jenkins — well, really. What a cast — the whole cast.

But a word about Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins together: this is a film about being in love with the movies. All I really knew about it was del Toro and a nod to The Creature from the Black Lagoon (probably from Bissette mentioning it). But it’s also about musicals and the magic of films and how that can make your horrible (or even just difficult) life bearable. So yeah, there’s music and movie magic and a movie house showing its age.

At the centre though is a silent pas de deux between Hawkins and Jones. At the ISATMA conference Michelle Temple talked to us about American Sign Language not just as a tool for communication but as a part of a culture. She gave us an example of how to leave a party, going around and saying farewell individually not just to make sure everyone knows you’re going but because ‘we watch out for one another’ Temple emphasised. Hawkins’ character is mute (though not deaf) and speaks through sign language. Jones’ character lacks human speech, but they soon learn to communicate. So many films rely on dialogue and facial expressions. This is whole body acting. Hawkins and Jones will slay you.

It’s melancholy magic, sad and beautiful, fun and painful — which is to say it’s del Toro, right? I more often think about Pan’s Labyrinth than I watch it because it’s so harrowing. This film covers traumatic subjects but with a lighter touch–more fable than fairy tale, perhaps. This makes it sound lesser. It’s not. But takes place on a more intimate stage. You peel back the Technicolor skin and you see people struggling against forces they know may crush them (oh, the scene with Spencer and Martin Roach or the pie shop). But in spite of that — or maybe because of that — they won’t back down from doing what they know has to be done.

And that’s what we need to see right now. I don’t want that to be a fairy tale.

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