Movie Review: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo Del Toro starring Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Updated 26 June 2018

Movie Review: The Shape of Water

Visually stunning and beautifully acted, writer-director Guillermo Del Toro’s fairytale love story shows that one can find happiness in anyone — or anything — and does so masterfully.
Set against a 1960’s US-Soviet cold-war backdrop, mute cleaning lady Eliza Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins) falls in love with a human-like aquatic creature (Doug Jones) trapped as a test subject in a secret US scientific facility headed by compellingly malevolent government official Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon).
Hawkins’ performance as Eliza ironically speaks volumes. Without needing to utter a word, her ‘loud’ sign language, facial expressions, telling gazes and perfect timing put the viewer right inside her head. Shannon is equally riveting as Strickland, bringing a sense of dominance to a villain whose no-nonsense mantra has everyone quaking in their seats.
The real treasures, however, are among the supporting line-up. Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg are fantastic as Eliza’s colleague and friend, her neighbor, and a US-Soviet scientist/spy respectively, as they balance their own unique and interesting sub-plots with their role as comic relief.
For a movie that runs to 123 minutes, the plot felt weirdly rushed in places, while in others the story drags, and one can’t help feeling like there were a few scenes that ended up on the cutting-room floor when they might have served the movie well, or that things could have played out differently and in a more elegant manner. The first two acts of the film are captivating and make the audience ask the right questions, but toward the movie’s climax, everything plays out a little too predictably.
“The Shape of Water” won 2018’s Academy Award for Best Movie. Did it deserve it? When you look at the lineup it was up against, the answer would have to be “Not really.” But the magical world Del Toro has created is definitely worth diving into.

Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

Updated 25 September 2018

Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

  • Cirque du Soleil created a spectacular show in Riyadh
  • They paid tribute to Saudi culture and heritage

RIYADH: The circus — a place that is almost synonymous with joy and delight. Since time immemorial, circuses have been places of celebration and glee, and few as much as the premier name in the industry: Cirque du Soleil.

The show has had a devoted fan in me since 2006, when I attended a performance of their production “Quidam” and my definition of the word “circus” was turned upside-down. Their unique approach to art, performance, costumes and music has secured their status as a household name and a benchmark for all other circus shows to be measured against.

On Sunday night, Saudi Arabia’s National Day, the circus brought their incredible acrobatics to Riyadh’s King Fahad Stadium and it turned out to be a night to remember.

Prior to the event, Cirque’s Vice President of Creation Daniel Fortin offered little in the way of spoilers but hinted that we would see something the likes of which we never had before. With the promises of exclusive new acts, music, costumes and stage tricks piquing my excitement, I joined a throng of green-and white-clad spectators flooding the stadium. Performing to a sold-out crowd, the show kicked off at exactly 8.30 p.m. and the magic truly began.

Barely five minutes into the show, something stole over me as I settled into the rhythm of the music, something I saw flickering over the faces of those in the crowd around me: Recognition. We were seeing ourselves, our identity, echoed back at us, but with a twist. We saw ourselves through someone else’s eyes — someone respectful and admiring.

As a Saudi youth today, it has become an unfortunately common occurrence to face negativity from various outsiders, born of ignorance or fear. It has become dreary and repetitive to have to continually defend my people and my culture from those who have no wish to understand us.

But at this show? I saw my country once more through the eyes of an outsider, but this time, it was different. I saw my culture and my heritage lauded, celebrated, delicately fused with that tangible Cirque du Soleil flair. The attention to detail was careful, almost loving, but also daring and outlandish. It was a glorious fusion of classic Saudi aesthetics with the ethereal, bizarre beauty of Cirque du Soleil.

The symbolism was not always obvious, sometimes it was subtle, constrained to the beat of a drum or hidden in a snatch of song. Other times, it was blatant and bold, in the sloping hump of an elegantly clumsy camel costume, or the billowing of the Bedouin Big Top in the gentle breeze. And yet, unmistakeably, I felt the Saudi influences in every note of the performance. It felt like an homage, and yet it did nothing to diminish its own identity. It remained unquestionably a Cirque du Soleil performance, only below the usual circus frippery, there was a ribbon of something else that lay coiled beneath the surface. Something bright, vibrant green. Saudi green.

The spectacle rounded off with an astonishing display of fireworks, so plentiful that for a moment, the sky glowed bright as day. To me, each one felt like a promise fulfilled. A dream achieved. A miracle witnessed. Here, on my own home soil, it was the perfect tribute to a rich and vivid culture.