While promoting ‘The Shape of Water’ at Venice International Film Festival, director Guillermo del Toro admits that making the movie was “torture.” (Sept. 1)

TORONTO — Who cared what time it was?

The Shape of Water began an hour late on Monday night at Toronto International Film Festival, but the besotted audience didn’t seem to mind, giving director Guillermo del Toro a rousing welcome before the movie even rolled.

The director’s latest fantasy was hotly anticipated here, having just won the Venice Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion. Del Toro’s new dark fairy tale, set in the 1960s, tells the story of Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a voiceless woman who bonds with a captured sea monster at the government laboratory where she works.

The Shape of Water proves to be a timely fable, addressing the fear and subjugation of the “other,” with Hawkins’ silent janitor (an “invisible person,” as the Mexican director terms her) the only human willing to search for the amphibian’s hidden humanity. 

At the Q&A following the film, del Toro contemplated his monster-laden canon, from Hellboy to Pan’s Labyrinth.

“(Many say) film is only valuable if it’s social drama. And what I say is, no. There’s art and beauty and power in the primal images of fantasy and parable and fairy tales. … I think realism is amazing, but not every filmmaker has to be realistic.”

Certainly, in The Shape of Water (astonishingly made for less than $20 million, despite its sumptuous visuals), del Toro paints complex protagonists. “I wanted to show somebody real,” he says of his “beauty,” a custodian who can’t speak, smokes and starts her days with a sexy bath.

Del Toro’s “beast” is a sea creature (Doug Jones, soon to hit the small screen in CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery) who feasts on an adorable cat. “Love is saying, ‘I’m screwed, you’re screwed, but we’re great together, somehow,’ ” he grinned. 

By Eliza’s side is her fellow, more…