Water Drops on Burning Rocks
(Gouettes d'eau sur pierres brulantes)
© 2005-2010 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

      In adapting "Tropfen auf heisse Steine," an unproduced play by Rainer
Werner Fassbinder written when the German director was only 19, French film
maker François Ozon pays homage to the original author. Much like Fassbinder's
middle work,
Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brulantes (or, in English, Water Drops
on Burning Rocks
) confines the action of the piece to one setting with the
camera capturing the intense relationships that unfold between the four

      The winner of the Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the 2000 New
York Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (NewFest),
Water Drops on Burning Rocks
reflects an astute knowledge by Fassbinder on the gamesmanship that is
involved in relationships.

      The first act is essentially a seduction. An older man (Ozon has aged the
character from 35 to 50), Léopold 'Léo' Bluhm (Bernard Giraudeau) has invited a
19-year-old Franz (Malik Zidi) back to his apartment. From the outset it's clear
that Leopold has one thing in mind but the men swap stories of the women in
their lives (Léopold had a seven-year relationship with one but outside of a
satisfactory sex life, they had nothing in common; Franz is engaged to be
married). Eventually Léo is able to win over the younger man.

      Act Two finds the pair co-habitating after six months. They have settled
into a routine with Léo adopting a prickly attitude and Franz attempting to keep
the peace. Fassbinder and Ozon examine the play of power in a relationship in
these sequences and while some of the dialogue is a bit heightened, the point
is made.

      In the third section, Franz's ex-girlfriend Anna (Ludivine Sagnier) arrives to
inform Franz she is set to marry someone else. Seeing one another rekindles
their affection and it isn't long before they've tumbled into bed.

      The finale, which introduces Véra (American actress Anna Thomson),
Léopold's former flame, also finds the balances of power shifting as each of the
former lovers makes a claim for the one they want.

      The superlative cast maintains a high standard and achieves the proper
tone for the material. Giradeau is excellent as the mercurial Léopold. Anna
Thomson delivers a delicately nuanced performance as Véra, particularly in her
stunning delivery of a monologue about her life with Léopold. Relative
newcomers Malik Zidi and Ludivine Sagnier also excel.

      With its deliberate homages to James Joyce's
Ulysses, Water Drops on
Burning Rocks
is clearly not for everyone, but admirers of Fassbinder's work
will exult at having a previously unknown effort to view and fans of François
Ozon will not want to miss this one.

Rating:                   B
Running time:         90 mins