English Title: Water Drops on Burning Rocks
Original Title: Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brûlantes
Language: French, German
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama
Director/Writer: François Ozon
based on the play of Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cinematography: Jeanne Lapoirie
When Ozon meets Fassbinder, WATER DROPS ON BURNING ROCKS is based on Fassbinder’s four-act play he wrote when he was only 19, with a minimal cast of four exclusively boxed inside an apartment, which immediately evokes Fassbinder’s own chamber rhapsody THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT (1972), but under Ozon’s fabrication, there is enough French glibness and levity to temper an inchoate observer’s jejune but palatable fantasy about the abjection of love.
Léopold (Giraudeau), a 50-something business man, brings home a 20-year-old boy Franz (a ginger Malik Zidi), aka. Fassbinder’s alter ago, they engage in conversations and consensual sex, and in the next act, six-months later, Franz has already moved in as Léopold’s living-in boyfriend. The pair often squabbles about trivial matters due to their different personalities, but a grace not is that their sex can still expunge the discomfort, but inexorably the situation evolves into a humiliation test for Franz, as much as he loves Léopold, how long can he endure his domineering volatility?
During Léopold’s away for a business trip, Franz’s ex-girlfriend Anna (Sagnier) visits him in the apartment and they rekindle their romance and it seems Franz has finally made up his mind, to end his masochistic affection to Léopold and seek a new lease on life with Anna. But their plan is scuppered when Leopold unexpectedly returns home earlier than planned, he effortlessly dismisses their child’s play meanwhile at the drop of a hat, Anna falls under Léopold’s suave charm and is more than ready to put out, and the situation compounds when Léopold’s jilted old-flame Vera (Levine) pays an unbidden visit, the quartet is assembled, and a new round of master-and-slave game starts. A disconsolate Frantz, piqued by Léopold’s promiscuity and haughtiness, and the fact that he has never been taken seriously by him in their lopsided relationship, yet admits his incapability to overcome the inherent subservience which a creature holds towards his creator, conducts a final manifestation of his severance from him once and for all.
Demarcated its running time within a 90-minute spell, the film doesn’t feel over-claustrophobic in spite of its one-location-only monotony thanks to Ozon’s jaunty tenor and clinical interior design, a telling discrepancy from Fassbinder’s own temperament, yet both share an artistic astuteness of exquisite camera compositions to amply and examine the emotional turmoil of their actors.
Although the whole narrative might partake of a youngster’s perverse Freudian intuition about love, carnality and preordained conflict between rebellion and submission, the core cast leavens the material with layers of personal touch, ranging from bravado (Sagnier’s pert volupté and Zidi’s painstakingly bland greenness) to bravura (Giraudeau’s quasi-insufferable cockiness and Levine’s uncanny vulnerability under the slap). As a matter of fact, Vera’s jeremiad told through her ultimate tête-à-tête with Frantz is more unsettling than Frantz’s struggle and the last shot framing at her attempt to fight back the stifled morbidness is Ozon’s coup de maitre, who never flinch from exacting gallows humor when someone is shuffled off this mortal coil.
By and large this Ozon-cum-Fassbinder hybridization doesn’t yield a 1+1>2 ground-breaker, nevertheless it still tackles its intricate dilemma with a measured stride, if not entirely coherent, at least we have that “man in overcoat” fetish to relish with a knowing grin.