"WATER DROPS ON BURNING ROCKS"|
In French with English subtitles
90 minutes | Rated: Unrated
Opened: Friday, September 8, 2000 (SF)
Directed by Francois Ozon
Starring Bernard Giraudeau, Malik Zidi, Ludivine Sagnier & Anna Thompson
Unproduced early Fassbinder play becomes self-satisfied French farce of sexual politics
Boy did I feel like a dilettante watching "Water Drops on Burning Rocks." A self-satisfied satire of sexual politics based on an unproduced play by a 19-year-old Rainer Werner Fassbinder before he became an artsy-fartsy German film director, it's the kind of exaggerated, elitist Euro-farce that cinema snobs enjoy just because they know the unwashed masses wouldn't.
But while I like to think I can swing both ways on the film snob pendulum, you'll have to count me among the latter group on this picture.
Directed by Francois Ozon ("Sitcom"), this caustic dark comedy about releationships based on sexual power stars Bernard Giraudeau as Leopold, an aging Lothario in the early 1970s who brings home effeminate 19-year-old Franz (Malik Zidi) and seduces him. Leo steals the young man away from his devoted fiancée and the two begin a live-in relationship in which the power is definitely tilted in the older man's favor.
But just what pretty young Franz sees in this over-ripe, unconvincing playboy is never clear. Quickly bored after Franz settles in, Leo is abusive and controlling to an extent that makes it almost impossible to understand why Franz sticks around. Because of this exponential imbalance the characters lose their credibility and their ability to amuse, leaving the picture with little more than an air of sarcastic pretension.
"Water Drops" apes Fassbinder's style, vividly recreating the '70s with such astounding detail that without a copyright date on the film, you'd never know it was made 30 years later -- even though the entire movie takes place inside Leopold's apartment.
But for the film to seem funny -- or dramatic (Ozon toys with both) -- at all, one had to buy Leopold's sexual magnetism and Giraudeau just doesn't have it. Anyone who could succumb to this shallow, pathetic, lecherous egomaniac isn't worth watching for 90 minutes.
And Franz isn't the only one who comes under Leopold's spell. The boy's buxom, doe-eyed girlfriend (Ludivine Sagnier) arrives to reclaim her man and becomes another of Leopold's sexual playthings with comical ease. Before long, Leo's transsexual ex (Anna Thompson) is knocking down his door as well. Apparently (s)he has been an emotional wreck for all the years since their breakup.
Whether these developments make "Water Drops" more ironic or more gratingly ridiculous is open to debate.