Plagiarism claim: Jean-Pierre Jeunet accused Guillermo del Toro of copying his scene from “Delicatessen” and his concept from “Amelie” for film “The Shape of Water”

**SPOILER ALERT FOR THE FILM “THE SHAPE OF WATER”**

A number of newspapers and news sources (such as IndieWire, DailyMail) reported that French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet accused Guillermo del Toro of copying one of his scenes from his movie “Delicatessen” (1991) for del Toro’s latest film “The Shape of Water“. Moreover, Jeunet accused del Toro of copying the character of Amelie from “Amelie” (2001) for “The Shape of Water“. In particular, there is a scene in Jeunet’s movie “Delicatessen” where Louison (Pinon) and Plusse (Viard) appear “dancing” to music while sitting on a bed. In “The Shape of Water“, the characters played by Hawkins and Jenkins also perform a step-dance while sitting on a sofa. As for “Amelie“, the French director claims that the concepts of a shy and naive girl, a painter and an apartment were lifted off straight from “Amelie” to make “The Shape of Water“. The Mexican director defended himself by saying that it was Terry Gilliam who influenced both Jeunet and himself. 

In my opinion, the scenes in both “Delicatessen” and “The Shape of Water” do look similar because both the female and male characters there are sitting together watching an old movie/musical and appear to act to the music from the television, although there are some differences as well. However, if we just focus on these two scenes’ similarities, then many other films in the world are equally guilty of plagiarism because they stole “scenes” from other movies. Maybe del Toro did take some inspiration from Jeunet’s scene, and also probably imbued the character of Elisa with some qualities of Amelie, including Elisa and Giles’ love for cinema, but isn’t shouting plagiarism going too far at this point? 

Rather a more serious plagiarism claim comes from the son of Paul Zindel, who claims that del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is based on his father’s – Paul Zindel’s 1969 play “Let Me Hear You Whisper“, and del Toro failed to mention the influence of Zindel’s play on his movie. In fact, the similarities in plot between the play and the movie are astounding – as the Guardian reports – “In both stories, a female cleaner works a night shift at a lab and falls for an aquatic creature that is the subject of mysterious science experiments. Both women develop a relationship by bringing food to the animal and dancing with a mop in front of the tank to the tune of a love song…The two cleaner characters both learn to communicate with the creatures, and both labs are involved in secretive military operations. The protagonists both discover imminent plans to kill the creature, and both labs mention “vivisection””. The Guardian article further continues – “both women also devise plans to rescue the animal and release it to the sea by sneaking it out in a laundry cart…and “both women are friends with another janitor who helps them – Danielle in one version of Zindel’s work and Zelda in Del Toro’s film.” (see full The Guardian article here). 

Have you seen “Amelie“, “Delicatessen“, “The Shape of Water” or maybe even “Let Me Hear You Whisper” (TV movie)? What are your thoughts?

9 thoughts on “Plagiarism claim: Jean-Pierre Jeunet accused Guillermo del Toro of copying his scene from “Delicatessen” and his concept from “Amelie” for film “The Shape of Water”

  1. It’s tough being totally original these days, so much has been done already! I heard the movies Splash (1984), Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948), Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), and Beauty and the Beast (1946) have similarities to Shape of Water, although I would label those influences and not exactly plagiarism. I hope the son of Zindel is given compensation as the 1969 play does sound almost identical from your description.

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    1. The play seems to have too many similarities, does not it? Pretty much like obscure Japanese animations, the sad fact is that directors/writers can freely take such material and do all kinds of things with it with no one really noticing because no one ever heard of them.

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  2. I agree with Chris, there are many duplication’s with variations of delivery. Even the couch dance stepping. Fred Astaire had one such, though the title of the movie escapes me for now. But, I can picture it where he starts out seated, feet moving and then eventually getting up and dancing. It would be hard to innumerate the countless films out there that are various previous work. It’ not uncommon. I mean how many variations are there of Cinderella, for pete’s sake? Tons!!! Not much out there is completely unique.

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    1. Thanks for agreeing. I think the scene allegedly taken from Jeunet’s movie is an inspiration at best. There are a number of scenes taken from Japanese animation Paprika to make Nolan’s Inception – but I still regard it as “taking inspiration”. The only difference though that Nolan nevertheless I think did mention this inspiration during his interviews.

      Regarding Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc. – these are folk tales and not even fall into the same category. These are stories based on myths passed from one generation to another for centuries. It may even become a common (global) cultural heritage and, thus, anyone can take the main plot lines and do whatever they want with them.

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  3. Very interesting. Borrowing scenes are quite common, I think. When creating a scene of any kind, it’s hard not to borrow what seems to be in your sub-conscious. The different setting makes it seem original, but honestly, is anything original? Just themes and variations of something that came before it? Could you call it day after the Greeks and Shakespeare?
    And del Toro’s claim that Terry Gilliam inspired him. That seemed random. I assume they are friends? Did they do a film together? Anyway, nice post.

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    1. Perhaps so, but Zindel’s play and the subsequent TV version are harder to ignore because the similarities there seem endless.
      Most of del Toro’s cinematography is influenced by Gilliam. Del Toro has always been his most devoted fan. And no wonder I think because Gilliam is heavily into “magic realism”, which is the Latin American forte.
      And, speaking of Gilliam – his new movie The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, to maybe premiere at the Cannes, looks very interesting. I have been following its development for awhile.

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      1. You are full of knowledge and announcements that I appreciate. I love Gilliam for the most part. Only a couple bloopers for me in his long history. I did not know they had such a relationship. I’d love to see ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’.

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