Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brûlantes
Francois Ozon :: France :: 1999 :: 1h30
Young Franz follows the fifty-year-old Léopold home and surprises -even himself- when he lets himself be seduced by this older man. Franz slowly finds himself transformed into a submissive role, catering to ever more whimsical Léopold. Franz accepts his fate out of love. Six months later, and half way through the film, Franz’s long-time girlfriend Anna shows up, leading to a scene not quite as you would imagine. And to add onto the already curious and estranging situation, Léopold’s old love Vera turns up as well, having just completed a sex change(!).
The movie opens with 1970s coloured postcards of Berlin, with the sounds of cars and church bell towers worked into the accompanying music, as if you are watching a film. The absurdity of hearing sounds linked to a stationary image is one which is upheld throughout the work. It is an absurdity which pushes the characters to say and act in unexpected ways, as if they are re-writing a code of conduct applicable only to the sealed off test tube world in which they live.
Based on an unpublished play by Fassbinder, Water Drops on Burning Rocks, the movie holds on to its air of theatre, taking place entirely in bachelor Léopold’s pad with only the 4 characters. The details on this stage are telling, so accurately done it is hard to believe the film had been made in 1999. The apartment is decorated in a 1970s brown, grey and orange, with the fluffy carpeting and modern furniture to go with it. Léopold lusts and consumes in a three-piece business suit or silk dressing gown. Franz is mostly dressed as the romantic 19 year old that he is, with turtle neck jumpers, Anna, the intrigued external party, is either naked or in bright blue lingerie and finally Vera, the ghost of love lost, is in a fur-lined overcoat. The coat of elegance to hide the tragedy.
As you would expect from an Ozon film, the images are often framed to the perfection of a photograph, moving the actors through the frame with a balance of shadow and light on their faces using whole images to convey a message. But despite the perfection of the details, and the absurdity of the presentation, you can not be detracted away from the harsh message, of romantics falling prey to sexual predators, who leave their abandoned lovers along the route in their search for gratification. Nowhere does this line hit home more clearly than in the desperate closing image, as a moving Hopper painting pushed to hopelessness. This is a unique piece of cinema and a curious element in Francois Ozon’s portfolio. For lovers of cinema, theatre and the two combined: try not to miss out.