Typically, it’s the stars who get all the attention when films screen at film festivals. They walk the red carpet, get all the media attention and pundits compete to appoint their favorite potential contenders. But there are equally deserving achievements in each of these films that usually go unnoticed – except for a few words here and there in some reviews – but they need to be highlights because just as these wonderful performances that leave us in awe on screen, the craft of making a film is part of the singular, unique experience that cinema offers unlike any other medium.
This Venice Film Festival has seen a number of standout technical achievements that are surely going to attract the attention of AMPAS’s technical branches.
Here’s a round-up of four achievements that merit attention and celebration (click image for a larger look):
The Shape of Water is more than just a period piece – it’s imaginative, bravura filmmaking that transports viewers. The production design on the film is simply astounding, particularly in what could have been just another apartment set. Elisa (Sally Hawkins)’s apartment is superbly designed to capture period detail and a dreamy mood. It is built on top of a beautifully designed old movie theatre where Elisa’s bathroom floor is right above the theatre’s main screening hall. The set design manages to be beautiful yet not overly showy. It is homey, elegant and also suitable to Elisa’s financial situation.
Often as a production designer, you’re tasked with building large sets but Payne’s film requires the opposite – or more accurately, it shows the opposite. While the set designers on the film most likely worked on regular-sized sets, their work had to be still convincing when shrunk on screen. The small-sized world of Leisure Land was wonderfully portrayed on screen, with all its miniature elements. Even the trains, which regular-sized humans use in the film, had special compartments designed for small-sized residents. Uniquely designed, these compartments show us how these residents fit in the big world in very memorable ways.
Period pieces are always Oscar-friendly particularly in the costume design category and Victoria and Abdul is no exception. The film boasts excellent costumes for both Queen Victoria and her Indian clerk Abdul. An excellent contrast takes place in the film between excessive and lavish costumes (for the Queen) and bright-colored Indian costumes which the film was smart to mention are not the correct cultural costumes of the time. The Abdul costumes had to be designed to appear exaggerated yet they had to be visually pleasing and create a nice visual balance against Victoria’s more reserved, dark-colored dresses. The result is perfect.
The cinematography in Shape is an important part of the narrative. The film is full of dim lab moments, under-the-water master scenes, espionage-lit scenes and regular interior scenes. The image comes across as exquisite, beautiful and more importantly does not obstruct the viewer from following what happens on screen. Rather it draws us in to this emotional and arresting world, led by Hawkins’ performance and smart motion-capture for the film’s fantasy character.