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No girl wants her boyfriend to smell of fish – but what if he actually is a fish? There are many reasons why a romantic relationship between a human woman and a scaly aquatic creature might be problematic – but of course it’s easier when the creature is a regal Amazonian god with the power to heal, and even easier when the woman is a mute, ignored and marginalised in early-60s America. “I make no sound, just like him,” signs Elisa (Sally Hawkins), seeing a fellow freak in the captive fish-man.

The monster has been captured by US troops during an oil-drilling expedition in the Amazon; spear-wielding  natives tried to resist, reports Strickland (Michael Shannon) with a chuckle, and were presumably slaughtered. Strickland, of course, is the true monster, a racist military man and probable misogynist who likes his wife to keep quiet during sex – and later comes on to Elisa precisely because he likes her silence. The Shape of Water has a similar dynamic to Pan’s Labyrinth by the same director, Guillermo del Toro: the outlandish horror of a fantastical Other dwarfed by the everyday horrors committed by authority and the Establishment. I should say right now that I’m no fan of Labyrinth, and like this new one even less, but I’m clearly in the minority: it’s a front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar, having amassed 13 nominations.

Del Toro works with archetypes. Strickland (like Vidal in Labyrinth) represents all things fascist and sadistic; Elisa is silent and sensual, a pure soul with a good heart. She’s aided by a posse of the similarly disenfranchised: Zelda (Octavia Spencer) who’s both black and unhappily married, and Giles (Richard Jenkins) who’s a struggling artist and secretly gay. (Elisa herself, by the way, is Latina in addition to being disabled.) More importantly, the film deals in symbols. Green is the colour of water, red the colour of blood: an advertising man advises Giles – speaking of an advert for Jell-O – that green jelly (not red) is the jelly of the future. This links up with Strickland assuring his son that of course we’ll all have jet-packs in the future (“This is America!”), another sign of how wrong he is about everything. The creature, being water, is obviously green; Strickland’s bloodthirsty ways equate him with red – and the film makes it super-obvious, having him buy a Cadillac and tell the salesman, “I’m not sure about the green”.

The Shape of Water is a very busy, very jam-packed movie; there’s a pleasure in sorting it all out – especially given the film’s ornate visuals – but it also feels like del Toro grabbed these various elements and just slammed them all together. Why the religious angle, for instance, with Elisa having been found in the river as a baby (like Moses), and the title explained in the final seconds as a reference to God? Why the surprising, rather misjudged bits of violence? And what are we to make of the many cinematic references, from Creature of the Black Lagoon to Biblical dramas like The Story of Ruth? Elisa’s apartment is directly above a movie theatre. She dreams of being Alice Faye in a black-and-white 30s musical, a form of escape – but movies are also a form of denial: “I do not want to see that!” cries Giles when she turns the TV to footage of ‘Negroes’ being beaten, longing for the bubble of his lovely old musicals. Where does del Toro (a well-known film buff) stand on this issue, if anywhere?

Viewers, I suspect, won’t really mind that the film is muddled. (I haven’t even mentioned the sub-plot involving a scientist who’s really a Soviet spy.) After all, its main contours are clear: Beauty and the Beast, with a nasty soldier standing in the way. There are instantly iconic images, like the couple making love in a room full of water. Above all, the look is amazing. Surfaces are cluttered, walls damp and splotchy, rooms filled with carpets and overstuffed sofas. The lab where the creature is kept is a riot of tubes and piping, wall-high computers and what looks like a bathysphere. At one point, the camera moves from a pool of green-filtered light to a bank of retro TV sets in a shop window to a fat man sitting on a bench – all irrelevant, except that they look cool.

And what of water? Water, in this movie, is the medium of sexual pleasure and religious ecstasy – but also the medium of clammy images that stick in the mind, raindrops on glass and submerged, empty corridors. The Shape of Water is too cluttered to really cohere, then again water itself is also slippery (and shapeless, despite the title). The film starts in water and ends in water, bidding farewell with a high-flown Biblical quotation – though in fact I might’ve preferred Douglas Adams: so long, and thanks for all the fish.


DIRECTED BY Guillermo del Toro

STARRING Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins

Includes some dialogue in Russian, and in sign language

FANTASY DRAMA

US 2017                               123 mins
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Curling is considered the least taxing and physically demanding sport

A Russian Olympic medallist has left the Pyeongchang Winter Games on suspicion of doping, a team official said on Monday, in a scandal that has shocked his teammates and could imperil Russia’s efforts to regain full Olympic status.

Alexander Krushelnitsky, who competes in curling, one of the Games’ least physically taxing sports, is suspected of testing positive for meldonium, a banned substance that increases blood flow and improves exercise capacity.

Asked for an update on the case, Russian delegation spokesman Konstantin Vybornov told Reuters the athlete had surrendered his Games accreditation and left the Olympic village while awaiting the result of a second sample later on Monday.

He later denied having referred to any individual by name. But Russian women’s curling coach Sergei Belanov replied to reporters’ questions about Krushelnitsky, dismissing the idea that a “young, clever man” would use drugs in a sport where they would produce “no benefits”.

“It’s stupid, but Alexander is not stupid, so I don’t believe it,” Belanov said.

Krushelnitsky won bronze with his wife Anastasia Bryzgalova in mixed-doubles curling in Pyeongchang. He has not responded to a request for comment.

Suspicions of a doping violation have rocked the Russian team, which have been trying to draw a line under years of drug-cheating scandals, and shocked the sport of curling, where steady hands and sharp eyes outweigh physical fitness.

“We were all shocked when we found out yesterday. Of course we very much hope it was some kind of mistake,” Russian curler Viktoria Moiseeva told reporters, adding that the team believed Krushelnitsky was innocent.

“With us it’s not faster, higher, stronger; it’s about being more accurate. I can’t imagine what kind of drugs you could use in curling … so it’s very hard to believe.”

FLAG BAN

Russia has been accused of running a state-backed, systematic doping programme for years, an allegation Moscow denies. As a result, its athletes are competing at Pyeongchang as neutral “Olympic Athletes from Russia” (OAR), and banned from using their national flag or anthem.

Moiseeva said it would be dreadful if the scandal hurt Russia’s chances of regaining its full Olympic status for future Games.

“It’s a catastrophe, if it’s not just one Olympics but others too — it will throw sport in our country into turmoil. It’s awful just to think about, to be honest.”

The Russians had been hoping that a clean record at Pyeongchang would persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow them to march at the closing ceremony on Feb. 25 with the Russian flag and in national uniform.

The IOC said on Monday that any doping violation would be decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport and that a decision would come very quickly after analysis of a B sample.

If confirmed, the violation would be considered by the IOC’s OAR Implementation panel, the body in charge of monitoring the OAR team’s behaviour at the Games.

“REALLY SAD”

“I hope it’s not true … for the sport of curling,” said Norwegian team skipper Thomas Ulsrud, whose team would stand to pick up the bronze if the doping result is confirmed.

“If it’s true I feel really sad for the Norwegian team who worked really hard and ended up in fourth place and just left for Norway and they aren’t even here.”

Russian curling federation president Dmitry Svishchev said Russian curlers had been tested on Jan. 22 before flying out to South Korea and the tests were negative.

“I have known these guys for many years. Only a crazy person takes banned substances before a competition, before the Olympics,” Svishchev said on Sunday night when the news first broke. “It’s a strange story. It raises a lot of questions.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency banned meldonium with effect from January 2016, deeming it performance-enhancing because it enabled users to carry more oxygen to muscle tissue, something of benefit to endurance athletes in particular.

Former world tennis number one Maria Sharapova of Russia was barred from competition for 15 months after testing positive. In total, more than 170 athletes, including over 40 Russians, have tested positive for the drug since it was banned.
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People react to an earthquake alert on a street in Mexico City,

A magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck southern Mexico early on Monday, sending frightened residents into the streets as seismic alarms echoed across the capital, although there were no immediate reports of damage.

The quake hit 32 km (20 miles) east of Santa Catarina Mechoacan in the state of Oaxaca at a depth of 40 km at 12:57 a.m. (0657 GMT), the U.S. Geological Survey said, revising its strength down slightly from an initial 6.1 magnitude.

The tremor was strong enough to trigger earthquake alarms in Mexico City, more than 200 miles (320 km) away, but was shorter and less intense than one of Friday in the same area that damaged about 1,000 houses.

Many in Mexico City slept through the shaking. Residents who rushed into the streets when the alarms sounded quickly returned to their homes once the quake stopped.

The head of Mexico’s civil protection agency, Luis Felipe Puente, said state emergency procedures had been activated in the affected states.

“So far, no damage has been reported,” he said on Twitter.

Infrastructure, including installations of state oil company Pemex, were intact, he said.

Mexico has suffered a series of more powerful earthquakes in recent months, including two in September that together killed hundreds of people and brought buildings crashing down.
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A Jos High Court has ordered the remand of 39-year-old Peter John, accused of defiling his neighbour’s nine-year-old daughter.

Although the defendant pleaded not guilty to the two-count charge of rape and criminal intimidation, the judge, Justice Nafisa Musa, ordered that he should be remanded at Jos Prison.

He adjourned the case till March 20 for hearing.

The prosecutor, Mr. N.K. Tali, had told the court that the defendant allegedly committed the crime on July 26, 2017, at Furaka village in Jos North Local Government.

“The accused told the police that he lured the girl to a stream and defiled her.

“He said the girl is his neighbour’s daughter, who helped her mother in selling ‘akara.’

“John told the police that the girl was sitting with her grandmother at their business spot when he gave her money to buy him blade.

“The suspect said he followed the girl immediately she left to buy the blade, led her to a nearby stream and had carnal knowledge of her,” he said.

Tali said the accused told the investigators that he saw blood gushing out of the victim’s private parts.

“He threatened to kill her, if she told anyone, after which he returned the girl to her grandmother.

“But luck ran out on him when the grandmother noticed that the child had difficulty in walking, and upon examination, she saw blood in her private parts, which led to the girl exposing the accused,’’ he said.

The prosecutor told the court that a hospital examination confirmed that the girl was defiled.

He said the offences contravened Section 282(1) and punishable under sections 283 and 396 of the Penal Code.