The Shape of Water is all Enfolding

In his review of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Roger Ebert described it as a fairy tale for adults. Well Roger, the director of fantastical cinematic imagery has given us another one. Compared to Pan’s Labyrinth, this is a simpler and less horrifying tale. The Shape of Water is a delightful love story with a gratifying, requiting end.

The Shape of Water is set during the Cold War, in 1962 U.S., inside a high security, science research centre. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) oversees a new arrival from the Amazon (South America that is), a monstrous beast, and if he cares to really examine the creature with an appreciative eye, a beautiful Amphibian Man (clandestinely played by Doug Jones). Yes, the reverse of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

In the research centre is Dr. Holffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who has to tend to his covert mission, it is the Cold War after all, but from a scientific point of view, does have an appreciative eye for the creature.

The Shape of Water (1)

At the bottom of the rung are the janitorial staff, Elisa and Zelda, and with them the story comes alive. Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer’s duo performance is worth your movie ticket. They are the heart and soul of the story, something which the villain lacks. As a fairy tale, we can identify who that is right away, and the irony of who the monster is quickly becomes apparent.

Elisa is mute, she cannot speak but can hear what you say, so be careful. She knows a language that you’ll need a translator to understand, so be careful about that too. Thanks to Zelda, her official interpreter, she knows what not to translate as Elisa speaks her mind to ruthless Strickland.

Elisa’s neighbour is Giles (Richard Jenkins), an artist who does appreciate the Amphibian Man. He is of immense help to Elisa, a faithful friend to her despite endangering his own life. As a fairy tale, we see the good among the characters in sharp contrast to the villain.

As she cleans the facility, Elisa soon comes to appreciate the Amphibian Man, and the creature soon relates to her as she is, not as a handicapped, low-ranking cleaner. The two forge a bond stronger than any dangerous obstacle. The film moves into the second half as a thriller and leads us to see how love overcomes such obstacles. Love not just between the two obvious characters, but from those built upon friendship and mutual respect. As for the Amphibian Man, he is more powerful than just brute force as the story reaches its climax.

As the Awards Season is well underway, all leading to the finale, the Oscars, we see The Shape of Water gaining tremendous momentum. Among other accolades, it won the AFI Award for Movie of the Year, two Golden Globes: del Toro for Best Director and Alexandre Desplat for Best Original Score, and just received 12 BAFTA nominations. While Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer both get acting noms, they face strong contenders such as Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird).

The Shape of Water is a simple depiction of human longings and our universal need for connection. It’s a fairy tale love story and not a treatise on controversial subjects for debates. It offers some interesing cinematic visualization, like the beginning scene of Elisa’s apartment under water. The underwater romantic rendition towards the end of the movie, coincidentally, elicits another indelible cinematic moment from my memory, an underwater love scene also involving a woman who cannot speak, a film with which Marlee Matlin won her Best Actress Oscar with her heart-wrenching performance, and that’s Children of a Lesser God (1986).

Surely, water, the shape of it, all enfolding, is the main idea, for that’s what love is like.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

 

 

A Movie to Celebrate Canada Day

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers!

To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, and pay tribute to the Canadian spirit, I’d like to recommend the movie Maudie, about the folk art painter Maud Lewis (1903-1970). Born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Maud lived with her brother Charles in their family house until he sold it. In the movie, Maud overhears Charles telling their Aunt Ida he will pay her to accommodate and look after Maud in her home.

Maudie

Born with a small frame, disfigured facial features and deformed fingers, Maud suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis as an adult. Such handicaps however do not cripple Maud’s sanguine spirit and fierce independence. While staying at her Aunt’s place, she answers an ad for a housekeeper posted on the bulletin board of the local store. She jumps at the opportunity as she sees it as a way to move out of her Aunt’s and strive for her own independence.

The house that needs a housekeeper is home to Everett Lewis, a fish peddler in the village of Marshalltown, on Nova Scotia’s northwestern shore. Everett’s abode is a cramped, one-room hut with no running water or electricity. With her arthritic hands Maud cleans the floorboards and tends to Everett’s daily needs, cooking on the wood stove and bearing with Everett’s demeaning outbursts. The rule of the house is, he first, then his dogs, his chickens, and lastly, Maud.

Does Maud feel defeated? Well sure, but just temporarily. Her resilient and cheerful spirit can move even a mountain of a misanthrope. Not long after, she and Everett got married. “A pair of odd socks,” she says of their seemingly incompatible personalities. We hear it often nowadays, “diversity is strength”. The Lewis’s household is evidence to that.

And of course, there’s the economic factor.

Maud turns Everett’s dingy house into a pleasant abode. She begins to paint on every surface: the walls, windows, door, stove, washbasin with lively flowers, birds, and whatever she sees in nature. She also picks up small, discarded wood boards to paint scenery and snowscapes. Not long after, a sign “Paintings for Sale” is placed outside their tiny house to diversify the household economy.

Deer painting

Maud is one successful entrepreneur. Her folksy paintings soon draw the attention of passers by; the cheerfully decorated little house on the wayside soon becomes a stop for designated shopping and repeat customers, a point of interest for visitors. Later, it becomes a converging site for news crews and journalists. Each piece of board painting is sold for about five to six dollars, a card, 10 cent. Everett is the finance minister and holds the purse strings.

The movie presents Maud’s story with beautiful and absorbing cinematography. The pace is slow, allowing viewers to immerse in the outwardly harsh life of Maud’s, in contrast to her vibrant spirit and life-affirming talents. A tiny window is a frame of the world outside. The last part of the film comes to a sad note as Maud succumbs to illness of the lungs.

Now, to the making of the movie. The subject is Canadian, Maud Lewis is very much a Canadian folk art icon, her works are in the collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The filming location is Newfoundland and Labrador. But note this: the movie is helmed by Irish director Aisling Walsh (BAFTA nom Fingersmith, 2005), Maud is played by the English actor Sally Hawkins (Oscar nom Blue Jasmine, 2013), Everett is played by American actor Ethan Hawke (Oscar nom Boyhood, 2014). If I were a protectionist ruler, I wouldn’t have let them come in to make it.

But then again, this is Canada, eh?

 

~ ~ ~ 1/2 RIPPLES

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