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Shape of Water

Sally Hawkins saves the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” in Guillermo del Toro’s nostalgic Cannes-winner.

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Guillermo del Toro‘s films were always haunted by the ghosts of older films. It was clearest to see in PANS LABYRINTH (2006) that told the same story as Victor Erice‘s THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (1973) but was simpler and with special effects.


THE SHAPE OF WATER is haunted by dozens of films, from ET to CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON and the complete ouvre of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (DELICATESSEN to AMELIE) which influenced the film‘s look. Del Toro‘s film, which won the Golden Lion in Venice, is a bizarre, sentimental conjuring of cinema‘s not-so-distant past set in the early 60s that looks like the 50s with characters yearning for the cinema of the 30s and 40s. Nostalgia is scrambled with more nostalgia like green stuff in a detox smoothie.


There are pure, good people and unequivocally bad people here. The good ones are: the mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a cleaning woman in a secret lab who dreams of musicals, her older, gay neighbor Giles who is a talented commercial artist but has a style that isn‘t marketable anymore, her black colleague Zelda who complains about her lazy husband all day, and the sensitive, idealist russian spy Dr. Hoffstetter. It could all be so wonderful if it weren‘t for the villains. The most villanous of all is Michael Shannon as Strickland, a racist southerner who uses an electric drover to torture better and sexually harrasses Elisa because he likes that she can‘t speak.

The main plot is about the love between Elisa and a water creature that is regularly tortured by Strickland. Elisa and her friends have to try to save the creature before Strickland can kill and dissect him. A story of outsider solidarity and accepting the other. There‘s a strange, contradictory narrative strand about racism here too. Elisa and Giles watch THE LITTLE COLONEL on TV where Shirley Temple is the first white person to dance with a black man, the 57 year old Bill “Bojangles“ Robinson. It‘s a boundary breaking moment on one hand, but on the other Robinson plays Shirley Temple‘s slave. Robinson had to be the “Uncle Tom“ in 1935, the good, lovable, desexualised and non-threatening black man.

This happens to be the place of longing for Elisa and Giles, the two outsiders. There are scenes in the film that show concrete elements of segregation: divided cafeterias, water fountains, and toilets. Elisa‘s colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is a figure that is uncomfortably similar to a female “Uncle Tom“ stereotype, the “Mammy“ featured in films like GONE WITH THE WIND. Del Toro allows for a small rebellion, but it‘s directed at her husband, who is also a stereotype: the lazy, sophomoric violent black man.


THE SHAPE OF WATER is a strange film, neither a fairy tale, the references to reality and (film) history are too concrete for that, nor a parable because the metaphors are too mixed. It‘s about marginalization and a nostalgia that arises our of melancholy. Guillermo del Toro seems to hope that something new can come out of yearning for an imaginary past. That was always the aesthetic agenda in his films. It it questionable whether it serves as a political film, but del Toro knows that too. THE SHAPE OF WATER leads to a metamorphosis, but transformations only rarely lead to freedom.

Tom Dorow (INDIEKINO MAGAZIN)

Translation: Elinor Lewy

Credits

Original title: Shape of Water
USA 2017, 123 min
Genre: Fantasy, Love-story, Modern Fairytale
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Author: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
DOP: Dan Laustsen
Montage: Sidney Wolinsky
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones
FSK: 16
Release: 15.02.2018

Website

Screenings

Screenings

  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles
English/with English subtitles
All languages

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