The Keys to The Shape of Water, by Guillermo del ToroBy: Gabriela Martínez @GabbMartivel
In 2006, Guillermo del Toro was a Special Guest of the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) for the first time, when he presented Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Eleven years later, he returns to Morelia to present his latest film The Shape of Water, which won the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival, becoming the first Mexican to obtain this recognition.
Daniela Michel, director general of FICM, defined Guillermo del Toro as “a genius of contemporary cinema” and thanked him for his presence during the press conference of his new film. The event was also attended by Cuahutémoc Cárdenas Batel, vice president, and Alejandro Ramírez, president of the festival.
The Shape of Water is a fairy tale set in the United States against the backdrop of the Cold War in 1962. Sally works in a secret government laboratory. She feels isolated in a world of solitude and silence, for she is mute. But her life will change forever as she and her co-worker Zelda discover the lab’s classified experiment.
Guillermo del Toro talked about the process of realization of a film that turned out to be very personal.
The Shape of Water and The Beauty and the Beast
The love story between the creature and Sally may seem very similar to what happens with “Beauty and the Beast,” however, Guillermo del Toro says he does not agree with the way love is treated in the story by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot from Villeneuve. “It seems horrifying to me that a love story is a history of change, that is, for me, love is the acceptance of someone as they are from the beginning, or letting that person go. I was more interested in developing a rounded female character, with a more complex than line that of a little princess. On the other hand, the beast will not change or present the divine side of that creature. It is a primordial entity that belongs to water, and it’s about the recognition of her essence in that creature,” said del Toro about this comparison with the story.
In addition, he added that his interest was in telling a liberating love story about tolerance, love and embracing otherness, “I wanted to do things that frighten me and make me curious, or that represent a challenge for me.” He said his previous films were remembrances of his childhood, “but the time to ask, “what do you want to talk at age 53?” came, that’s how this movie came about. It’s very personal for me.”
It was nine months of research to find the songs, movies, TV series that were popular in the United States in the early 1960s. “It is a time when the United States defines itself through media mythology, that is, the transformation of how you look at a country through TV, film, music,” said del Toro. The score was made by Alexandre Desplat and was recorded in Abbey Road. “It’s the third time, in eleven films, that I attend the recording of the score because I did not give it much importance. I thought the musician knew what to do, however, Desplat invited me to participate to give the music the emotion it needed,” he added.
A love homage to Cinema
“This is the most optimistic film I’ve ever made. It’s a movie where you can find a force, love as a force, it can be from father to son, fraternal, romantic love,” said the director. Compared to other film endings, such as Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone (2001), which are painful, this story has “a beautiful ending that’s possible. It is a declaration of love to love and love of cinema. To love in general “.
In addition, he said that The Shape of Water is a love letter to Sunday movies, “that Sunday movie that saves your life sometimes. The work with the camera, with the music, with the actors, has references to classic cinema; it is filmed like a musical even when the actors do not sing or dance. The camera and the actors are doing a beautiful choreography,” he added.
Del Toro explained that the limitation of the language between his characters in the film was very important because that intensified the main character, Sally’s, despair for wanting to express the love she feels for the creature. “I was interested in the two main characters recognizing each other, falling in love, but being unable to say anything. So, you pay more attention to the act of recognition,” he concluded.
On the aesthetic
All elements of the film are taken care of. “The film, every two pages, had to talk about water. Whether it was drinking water, through sweat, etc., because it tries to show water in all its forms. That is why in the calendar that appears at the beginning of the film has phrases like “Time is a river that rises from the past” or “Life is the wreckage of our ideals.”
In addition, he talked about the importance of color coding, as Sally’s and creature’s world is identified with blue and cold colors to simulate water. “Her apartment is full of humidity, it’s almost always night time or has cold lighting. Compared to the rooms of other characters, where the tones are warm even when the scenes are at night,” he added. On the other hand, the color green is assigned to the future, “every time we talk about the future we use that color, and red was used to represent everything related to life, love and cinema.”
He noted that there is a scene with a wallpaper reminiscent of the creature’s scales, “on the wall of Sally’s apartment there is an enormous humidity stain. We reproduced the engraving of the giant wave of Kanagawa with dampness”, said del Toro.
About the creature, he said the idea was for it to mean something different for different characters, “for some it is related to its origin, for others it is a god, the recovery of faith in science and nature, or disgust in this foreign creature.” The design work was complex, since it took three years to make sure the character didn’t reference any other. They focused on salamanders, toads to texturing sculptures and painting. “We never paint a flat color, it is painted on slides. There is the base, the stencil, another layer of hand paint, a process was repeated several times. (…) The creature has all the colors of the film, it’s like a shooting target”, this was done so that the creature could fit in all the scenarios and respect the coding that links it with other characters.
He said the process had to be meticulous because “a being who is going to feel and express emotions is built millimetre by millimetre,” he added.
The film is set in the Cold War, specifically in 1962, the year in which the myth of the American dream is shattered. “There was an apparent abundance and an apparent progress unless you were part of a minority. What happens in the movie is that if you were a minority, that time was very much like it is now. There were differences of gender, racial brutality (…) The important thing is to make a movie about today using a time that allows a parable, which is the (year) 1962. If I do it today, it becomes typical, specific.” He said.
When questioned about the possibility of obtaining an Oscar, del Toro said that his main prize is that there is a film and thanked the possibility of being able to make films that he likes.
Watch the full press conference of The Shape of Water with Guillermo del Toro.