Guillermo del Toro's 'The Shape of Water' is the season's official festival darling

Building on the raves it earned in its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, "The Shape of Water" — a fable of improbable love in the face of fear and intolerance — drew cheers at its first North American screening at the Telluride Film Festival. It went on to win the Venice fest's top prize, becoming the first English-language film to do so since Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere" in 2010, and plays the Toronto International Film Festival tonight, before opening Dec. 8 in the thick of awards season.

The morning after the Telluride bow, The Times sat down with Del Toro to talk about what inspired his surreal adult fairy tale and why its fantastical, period-set, beauty-and-the-beast story is all too relevant in today’s real world.

Your friend and fellow director Alejandro Iñárritu has said that he thinks “The Shape of Water” is your most personal movie. Do you agree?

Guillermo del Toro: It’s the movie that I like the most. It’s this one, then “The Devil’s Backbone,” then “Pan’s Labyrinth,” then “Crimson Peak,” and so on and so forth. That’s the order for me — it doesn’t mean people have to agree. It’s sort of the aim-and-target quotient for a filmmaker — did it land where I wanted it? This landed exactly where I wanted it.

But “most personal” also suggests that, of all the films you’ve done, there’s the most of you in this one.

Del Toro: There is the most of me. Most of the time — in “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “Devil’s Backbone” — I’m talking about my childhood. Here, I’m talking about me with adult concerns. Cinema. Love. The idea of otherness being seen as the enemy. What I feel as an immigrant. What I feel is an ugly undercurrent not in the past — not in the origins of fascism — but now.

It is a movie that talks about the present for me. Even if it’s set in 1962, it talks about me now.

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