Styled like a music video, we cut back and forth between all four of them swinging in sync with the rhythm and performing their individual motions with campy grandeur. After three or four minutes of this highly amusing, sexually charged romp and stomp in the living room, the middle aged businessman (obviously the leader of the group) abruptly turns off the record. "All right, that's enough. Everybody to the bedroom!" The women rush offscreen, giggling and squealing.
That's what was used as a trailer for Francois Ozon's latest sexual comedy-thriller. The young Frenchman who directed the superb short film See the Sea and the puerile "shock-o-rama" feature Sitcom is back with another foray of men and women who push each other's buttons. Ozon lends his slightly warped comic perspective to a screenplay adapted from a theater piece by young, bitter Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Thank goodness Fassbinder never made this movie, since it is filled with pretentious dialogue which, if taken too seriously, would have been just painful. Fassbinder's earliest films are all bleak musings on how terrible the world is. "My soul is filled with such emptiness the likes of which you have never seen before, and I cannot ever be happy because my soul is empty, et cetera, et cetera." Humorless misanthropic slogans and self-loathing for ninety minutes do not make for an enjoying viewing experience. (He got better with age.)
However, once Fassbinder's script was pared down by Ozon, some of the insightful bickering by a couple trapped in a living situation which has made them articulate and bitter comes to the forefront. This was the German auteur's greatest skill, the ability to paint characters who wallow in misery and inflict pain on those they hold closest to their hearts. Suddenly, every line of dialogue is a mini-apocalypse, such as, "Why do you wear shoes around the apartment? You're so nosy! I told you to wear slippers!"
Older Fassbinder clone Leo (sleek Bernard Giraudeau, very fine) is the middle aged man who picks up straight, younger Fassbinder clone Franz (apple cheeked Malik Zidi) one night and gloriously seduces him. First, they drink. Leo turns on the charm, using flattery and subtle manipulations to get Franz to confess to having an interest in homosexual forays. Before long, they're indulging in Franz's fantasy of a stranger coming to the bed wearing an overcoat. It's sexy, diabolical and funny, all at once.
While the dialogue and set-up feel stagy (all interior locations and talky battles of will) Ozon manages to deftly use bright and gaudy '70s colors in each room and retro costumes to add visual splendor to each scene. The seduction scene and forthcoming verbal sparring tends to go on and on for long stretches into the realm of tedium, the performances are so compelling and the dialogue so spry and game that you somehow manage to stick with Water Drops on Burning Rocks.
After the seduction, we see them six months later in the midst of a live-in relationship gone to hell. Franz is now Leo's "housewife", cooking and cleaning and hanging up his coat for him, lighting his cigarette and scrubbing the floorboards. Leo remains dissatisfied with everything Franz does, and when it reaches the inevitable point where Franz wants to pack his bags and go, Leo does a bad job of pretending that it's their very arguments which keep him happy.
Ozon's casting in his films remains masterful, arousing genuine pathos in characters who are either dumb or unsympathetic. While his plots fare better in the short form (a little goes a long way in See the Sea) and he recycles visual and story ideas to pad out his ninety minute movie, he does manage to throw in enough stuff (and two new characters midway through) to keep it moving. Besides, you always have that nifty dance number to look forward to.
Sex, cruelty, fetishism - it may amount to a mere sick confection of a movie, one which is ultimately insignificant and lightweight, but it's compulsively watchable if you're game.
Aka Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brûlantes.
Liar, liar, rocks on fire.
Run time: 82 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 15th March 2000
Distributed by: Zeitgeist Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 6
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Francois Ozon