“Want to play a game?,” 50-year-old Leopold (Bernard Giraudeau) asks his 20-year-old guest, Franz (Malik Zidi). This question reverberates through Water Drops on Burning Rocks, where life is a game and love is trump.
“I like chess,” Franz replies. But Leopold has already selected another diversion. He sets up the pieces, calls the moves and always seems to win. Franz finds himself standing up his fiancee, Anna (Ludivine Sagnier) and, later, lying naked on Leopold’s bed. As Anna and Vera (Anna Levine), Leopold’s ex-”girlfriend,” come in to play, the web of competitive relationships among this quartet becomes a tragic masquerade.
Director François Ozon’s (See the Sea) adaptation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s drama of the same name exposes and dramatizes the games couples play. Sex is power and Leopold is a subtly monstrous master of seduction, expert in its strategies and techniques. But once his lovers fall victim to his charms, losing themselves, he loses interest. His amusement over, the rules and their roles change. “Fresh flesh wins,” Vera explains resignedly.
Though all the action takes place in a one-bedroom apartment set, Ozon’s visuals are rich and aptly convey his themes. Color indicates personality, relationships and shifts of power. Reflections and symmetrical composition echo the theme of couples. When asymmetry upsets Ozon’s finely balanced framing, it evokes loneliness and feelings of loss. Leopold’s king-size bed fills up much of his boudoir, appearing like a stage in front of a mirrored wall, implying that relationships are performances apotheosized in the sex act.
Water Drops on Burning Rocks could be interpreted as a satire of modern relationships and gender roles, or even taken as an allegory. Perhaps the title itself is a simile: Love drops on some as water drops on burning rocks.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].