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London Film Festival Review: The Shape of Water – “A triumph”

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Guillermo del Toro has returned with another deliciously visual modern fable, The Shape of Water. This time, the setting is an underground government facility where a cleaning woman befriends an amphibian creature who’s imprisoned there. The creature is similar in size to a man and cannot speak – which is no challenge to the cleaning woman, who also happens to be mute.

At the Q&A with Del Toro, held as part of the London Film Festival, he clarified that the roles had been written with certain actors in mind. And that impressive cast (which includes Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Del Toro’s long-time collaborator and friend, Doug Jones) are all stunning to watch.

Hawkins, in particular, gives an incredibly accomplished performance that is as passionate and bold as it is cute and lovely. She is small and silent but she is fierce and brave – and not to be messed with.

The story is dark and twisted, as Del Toro fans might expect. It’s full of nastiness and sinister characters committing ghastly acts of cruelty to another creature they don’t understand. Yet, in pure Del Toro style, it’s also full of love and affection and something so pure and untainted that it just transcends the other-worldly elements of the piece.

Del Toro himself said of the film ‘I think love is about loving who the other person is exactly . . . I thought it could be about embracing and loving the otherness.’ And that’s exactly what this story is. It’s a love story between two creatures who cannot communicate the way others do but who find a way to communicate and connect.

The central story cannot rely on dialogue so what unfolds instead is a beautiful and enchanting relationship that relies on expression and gesture, on something unspoken but just as clear. If anything, removing the speech element makes it even clearer because there are no barriers, no lies or sugar-coating of the truth. They just are.

And it’s sublime.

The Shape of Water is a triumph. It’s a magical film full of love, beauty and cringe-worthy violence. Del Toro has proven once again that his imagination, creativity and empathy knows no bounds when it comes to creating really great stories.

Check out our London Film Festival coverage

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