The Season of Mystery and Miracle

In a previous post (“Cindy Lou’s Lesson and the Miracle of ZuZu’s Petals,” December 11, 2014), I selected a quintet of holiday films to nurture your cheer while the seasonal stresses torment your spirit like an itchy Christmas sweater.

 Indeed, those durable classics can be summoned up throughout the year, anytime you need a reminder of the joy and love that shadow your days.

 This year, as in every year since the advent of sound, studios are releasing movies engineered to plop you down in a seat armed with a barrel or popcorn and a bucket of Coke.  

 Lost in the midst of the Hollywood Holiday rush, when epic space sagas are crammed cheek to jowl in the cineplexes against warm homecoming comedies and stark man/woman-against-the-System dramas, there’s a little gem of a film crying to be seen.

 Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is the rarest of chimeras, a fairy tale masquerading as a love story, overlaid with the conventions of a Cold War thriller.

 How does something like that work? I lack the critical skills to fully divine his storytelling abilities, but somehow del Toro manages to make this fly.

 There’s a delicacy to “The Shape of Water,” a sweetness blended with a dose of the strange that recalls Cocteau’s lyrical “Beauty and the Beast” and Schoedsack’s still-remarkable “King Kong.”(Both of these titles are available through the Fontana Regional Library System. If you’ve never seen them, give them a shot. If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen them, check them out again. Trust me. They’re chock-a-block with Miracle and Mystery.)

 There’s a magnificent cousin of The Creature from the Black Lagoon at the center of “The Shape of Water,” yet this masterpiece never strays into the conventions of a hoary Universal monster movie. Instead, it concentrates on humanity’s insatiable propensity for cruelty and our extraordinary capacity to love. Like all the best fairy tales, love wins out in the end, but it’s a harrowing journey. Like all the best monster movies, it’s about us and not the monster.

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Naturally, I hope you’ll find a couple of hours to see this masterpiece, but even if you can’t, perhaps this post will spur you to seek out del Toro’s staggering “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

This is available through the Fontana Regional Library System.

Set in the ghastly days at the bloody culmination of the Spanish Civil War, this is testament to the resiliency of imagination and the subliminal ways that myth is embroidered into the fabric of this broken world.

There is redemption of sorts, but it’s delivered at a horrifying price. The tale unspools with the languid pace of one of those nightmares that you thrash through, the kind that leaves your sheets and pillow drenched in dread-sweat. 

 

 Del Toro’s direction is confident and he gives full-rein to an imagination honed by a deeply Catholic grandmother and Famous Monsters of Filmland. It’s a sumptuous banquet of the grotesque and the wonderful. 

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Maybe in this season of deeply personal celebrations — Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s — we need to be reminded of the horror outside the door and the eternal possibility of salvation. See the source image
 May Your Holidays Be Bright and Full of Joy!

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