Jun 2, 2013

Water Drops on Burning Rocks

While it is indisputable that German New Cinema alpha-auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder was influenced early on by French filmmakers, including pedantic commie Jean-Luc Godard and ‘mainstreamer’ Claude Chabrol, it is nothing short of pure cultural and cinematic blasphemy for a froggy filmmaker to cinematically adapt his aberrant Aryan work, yet frog fag filmmaker François Ozon (Sitcom, Swimming Pool) did just that with his theatric melodrama Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brûlantes (2000) aka Water Drops on Burning Rocks. Based on Tropfen auf heisse Steine—the first play ever written by Fassbinder when he was merely 19-years-old yet still featuring many of the signature qualities of the forsaken filmmaker’s work—Water Drops on Burning Rocks is a theatrically stylized and pedantically paced work divided into four separate acts that follows the rise and fall of a 20-year-old bisexual German boy's romantic relationship with a 50-year-old professional of the seemingly psychopathic and sadomasochistic sort. Rather absurdly and aesthetically repugnant in a culturally arrogant manner that is not unbecoming for Hollywood filmmakers but less typical of froggy bastards, Water Drops on Burning Rocks, despite being a work featuring ostensibly kraut characters in Deutschland, was shot in the French language with an all fur-licker cast, thus making for a celluloid work that was artistically doomed for Fassbinder fanatics and Germanophiles alike before Queen Ozon shot a single frame of film. Still, with theatrical structure and thematic similarities with The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), the merrily macabre master-slave dynamics and camera angles of Martha (1974), colorful postcard-like opening credits similar to Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven (1975), the homo middle-class malevolence of Fox and His Friends (1975), bourgeois S&M imagery and characters typical of Despair (1978), and featuring a post-op tranny suffering from emotional trauma like In a Year of 13 Moons (1978), among various other countless references to the films of the master of Teutonic melodramatics, Water Drops on Burning Rocks is indubitably a postmodern celluloid tribute to Fassbinder directed by a man with a fiercely fanatical understanding of the filmmaker whose work he adapted, which is rather interesting considering the relatively well known visceral hatred between Germans and the French that goes back centuries. Based on a play by Fassbinder that the filmmaker refused to ever adapt in any form—be it theater or film—due to its autobiographical depiction of his painful real-life relationship with a nefarious gay geezer, Water Drops on Burning Rocks is essentially the tragicomedic story of a super suave middle-aged sexual sadist who builds up and breaks down a son figure of the sexual sort in an uncompromisingly cynical, anti-romantic, and misanthropic melodrama celluloid work with an ultra-unhappy ending in almost certain tribute to In a Year of 13 Moons, as well as the Teutonic filmmaker's own tragic life and death. 

 20-year-old red-haired twink fairy Franz (Malik Zidi) has a beauteous buxom blonde fiancée named Anna (Ludivine Sagnier) who he does not seem too interested in and certainly does not love, but that all changes forever one day when the seemingly confident yet easily corruptible German lad meets and decides to go to the quaint home of a charismatic kraut freckle-puncher named Léopold (Bernard Giraudeau), who looks like the suave Svengali anti-love child of Christopher Walken, Joseph Mengele, and Dirk Bogarde. While Léopold initially seems to be a mature and passionate lover with a profound understanding of people and romantic relationships, he is really an anally retentive psychopath who knows how to make people fall hopelessly in love with him and after becoming totally dependent on him, treats them like nauseating nuisances who he derives grand pleasure from by verbally and sexually abusing them. After spending a mere night with the elder man discussing failed romances and sexual fantasies, and eventually engaging in anti-agist sodomy, Franz moves in with Léopold and becomes his little bitch boy via emotional and monetary servitude. After six months of living with Léopold, Franz is now a virtually live-in housewife and archetypical fairy who prances around in lederhosen and tends to his menacing mature man’s demanding requests of the banal yet eccentric bourgeois sort, including making sure to keep vinyl records in their sleeves and not playing music too loud. Lecherous lunatic Léopold also admits to Franz that he believes he drove an elderly pensioner/war veteran to suicide after screwing the poor man out of his inheritance, so the boy comforts him by trading roles with his lover doing S&M, thus becoming the ‘top’ for first time in their relationship. 

 After months of fighting in a uniquely unhealthy and one-sided relationship with Léopold that solely revolves around sick sex, Franz agrees to meet up with his ex-fiancée Anna, who admits she still loves him despite the fact he dumped her for a man old enough to be her father. While Franz admits that he is still madly and masochistically in love with a callous old cocksucker, he ends up playing the same “man in the overcoat” roleplaying game with Anna that he does with Léopold, but it is quite clear that a woman makes for a rather unworthy substitute in a game of sexual sadism. Anna eventually convinces Franz to move out of Léopold’s apartment and it begins to seem like the two will get married and have two kids (ludicrously named Léopold and Franz). When Léopold shows up and Franz tells him he is leaving for good, he merely laughs at the young mensch and orders him to get coffee. Léopold’s ex-girlfriend/boyfriend Véra (Anna Levine)—a male-to-female transvestite who had their dick cut off in Casablanca for the sadist—also shows up and things start getting rather deranged and debauched. Léopold orders both Anna and Véra, who no longer seem interested in leaving, into the bedroom for group sex and they both abide, which infuriates Franz, who fantasizes about murdering his psychopathic boy toy. Franz and Véra both agree they are “Léopold's creature” (aka slave in a sadomasochistic relationship). Seeing how Léopold inspired Véra to happily mutilate his/her own genitals, only to be dumped in the end, Franz does commit suicide because, after all, as he states himself, “Maybe I’ll go to heaven, since I’m so young.” Undoubtedly, a lifetime with Léopold cannot be good for one’s soul, but as the psychopath tells his slaves, “you need me” and as masochists, they certainly do. 

 Master or slave, there is not a single likeable or respectable character featured in Water Drops on Burning Rocks, especially in regard to the slaves, who welcome their positively perverse and pernicious persecution, but such is the Fassbinderian realm as demonstrated in countless cinematic works by the German auteur, including Martha (1974) and Fox and His Friends (1975), but also in François Ozon's relatively faithful, if not flagrantly Francofied, adaption of the great German auteur filmmaker’s innately incriminating first play. It seems that François Ozon took Fassbinder’s quote regarding a major theme in his film Fox and His Friends, “I am more convinced than ever the love is the best, most insidious, most effective instrument of social repression,” to such an extreme that it borders on the point of parody in Water Drops on Burning Rocks, a virtual fan-boy fag flick of the both Fassbinder-esque and Sirkian fashion. Additionally, to the film’s aesthetic detriment, Ozon attempted to recreate yet slightly sterilely modernize the mostly outmoded, 1970s-like set designs and wardrobes featured in various classic Fassbinder flicks as if to be ironic to the point of aggressively agitating audiences members with Water Drops on Burning Rocks, an excessive exercise in pomo platitudes. Indeed, while Water Drops on Burning Rocks is probably only second to the ‘drag king’ Fassbinder biopic A Man Like Eva (1984) aka Ein Mann wie EVA starring Eva Mattes in terms of depicting the German filmmaker’s misanthropic melodramatic essence and complete and utter contempt for the kraut bourgeois, it can hardly be described as a good film, let alone a great one as some people seem to think. Of course, only Fassbinder can do Fassbinder and anything else is going to be, at best, second rate and, at the very least, marginally superficial. Featuring a poof of a protagonist who commits suicide after intentionally overdosing on drugs in a manner not unlike how Fassbinder himself died, Water Drops on Burning Rocks is a curiously culturally mongrelized self-love letter from one poof filmmaker to another, but a kraut cocksucker is always more masculine than a heterosexual frog, hence why the German auteur filmmaker's works are all the more powerful and visceral than hysterical homo Ozon, a half-mensch whose superficially saucy Franco-camp works I could never quite stomach. A gut-churning Ménage à Quatre plagued by aesthetic puffery and mundane melodrama of the would-be-wild-and-wanton sort with comedic undertones that could only make those who sniff antiquated wine laugh, Water Drops on Burning Rocks is the artistically disastrous poofed out product of a French flamer princess attempting to be a debauched Bavarian king.

-Ty E

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