Water Drops on Burning Rocks – Ozon uses Fassbinder to get steamy. (film review)

And steamy it is.

This is one of Ozon’s sexiest films with its ambiguous sexuality and its themes of submission and domination. Water Drops on Burning Rocks is a Fassbinder play, written when he was as nineteen years old as Franz (a pseudonym Fassbinder used many times throughout his career) is in the Ozon film. In many ways, Water drops on burning Rocks is an ode to Fassbinder but instead of a sycophantic admiration we have a cheeky adoration from Ozon. This film encompasses a sexuality Fassbinder was never quiet able to grasp – possibly because in terms of open mindedness about sex, there was less to battle in the year 2000 (when Ozon made this film) than when it was written in 1963 by Fassbinder. Ozon is free from a certain kind of politics, and therefore his take on the Fassbinder narrative is decidedly freer.

Ozon takes some liberties and some chances, that all work out for him in this wonderful film. He devotedly recreates a 1970’s style bachelor pad, making the set look very much like  hyper-realised Fassbinder film. He changes the ending to match In a year of thirteen moons and he restricts his shots of faces and heads so they are almost always framed as if Fassbinder shot it himself – most notably by window frames and the cracks of door ways. As an ode to Fassbinder greatest film influence, Godard, Ozon adds the “straight chorus” (don’t laugh) dancing to Tanze Samba Mit Mir is a lovely circular nod to Godard (A Bande Apart) via the Fassbinder lens.  And of course the smart little Ozon touches of Franz wearing his lederhosen around the house and dressing like a housewife to show his submission.

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This leads to one of the differences between Ozon and Fassbinder that is revealed in the film. Where Fassbinder will use a character to make a political point, Ozon will delve into the character to find the political point. It means that Fassbinder’s characters under the heavy influence of Ozon,  take on a multidimensional depth that Fassbinder deliberately removes.  It provides a striking reference point for the usual examination of Fassbinder’s films. This is a very interesting film to watch if you keep in mind Fassbinder never wanted to produce it as it was too personal and autobiographical. The overt sexuality – and it is an incredibly sexy film – almost feels like an Ozon seduction of Fassbinder, and a hope / promise / fear that this is what the relationship between the two of them might have become if they were ever allowed to play it out.

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Bernard Giraudeau is a very sexy “older man” and to me looked disturbingly like Karlheinz Böhm who worked several times with Fassbinder, particularly as the sadistic dominant husband of Marta, Helmut. He acts in a very similar way, his methods of extracting dependance mimic Helmut’s. Leopold is a similar character, explaining to his submissives that they need him more than he needs them, when the opposite is clearly the case. Like so many of Fassbinders characters, all of them here easily offer themselves up for destruction. Anna Levine, wonderfully made up as a transgendered woman, is dressed up (including wig) to look like  Hanna Schygulla. Other cute little in-jokes appear such as the paperback Franz is reading, Heinz Konsalik’s Liebe ist starker als der Tod, “love is stronger than death,” brings to mind the playfully morbid title of Fassbinder’s first film, Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (“love is colder than death”). Strikingly close to a Fassbinder effect, Ozon has Franz (Malik Zidi) straighten his very curly hair when he adopts the classic housewife role – its almost as if he has become ‘straight’ through domestication.

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Where the original play is about love, obsession, power and gender roles, Ozon brings an irony with the time movement forty years later. It’s still a tragic play, but it hints at comedy and the characters are all imbued with a stereotype that their own actions betray at certain points. Despite the overflowing sadness, there is a dark brooding hysteria underneath it all, as well as a peculiar quirky playfulness that makes us feel there will never be a real tragedy, no matter how dark it gets. And true to Fassbinder, the end is very dark indeed.

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