1 min

Glee & horror

Fine Fassbinderism

BON BON. Malik Sidi and Ann Thomson star in a new film by French director Fançois Ozon, much to the chagrin of Ontario's ever-vigilant censors. Credit: Xtra files

French bad-boy-of-the-moment François Ozon’s latest work, Water Drops On Burning Rocks, needs to be seen – just don’t take it too seriously.

Based on a play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who wrote it at age 19), it tells the story of 20-year-old Franz (Malik Zidi) and Leopold (Bernard Girardeau), the older man with whom Franz falls in love. But love, in typical Fassbinder fashion, ain’t easy: Leopold’s brutal manipulations of those who love him lead them to downfall and disaster.

Water Drops is a better movie than most. Well-made, cleverly written, bitterly amusing and at times heart-wrenching – it’s easy to look at and hard to watch all at the same time. And fans of Fassbinder will enjoy it to a certain extent for its pointed references to that great director’s films, and that certain bleak form of pessimism that can only be called Fassbinderesque.

But therein lies the trouble: When it comes right down to it, watching the film inspires a nagging feeling that all Ozon has really done is taken a familiar Fassbinder structure and thrown a lot of meticulous direction at it – art direction in particular.

Now, he’s done a slap-up job: Whether it’s a simple beige turtleneck, sudden mad hysteria, a thick-lipped youth, or a post-op transexual in fishnets and boots, everything is right on the mark, in terms of style.

Still, there is a gnawing sensation that something is missing – and, of course, that something is Fassbinder himself. Ozon’s choices, while always appropriate, self-consciously mimic choices that Fassbinder might very well have made if he were making the film. But in trying to capture Fassbinder’s elusive spirit, Ozon ends up suppressing his own. At worst, it results in falsehood; at best, a rather hollow construction.

Fassbinder could demonstrate an astonishing audacity in his filmmaking, which tends to make his work seem precarious, as though each film might fly apart at any moment. Ozon’s film seems almost incomplete because he cannot possibly duplicate audacity.

That said, Ozon is an interesting director, and what he does inspire in his audience – horror at the characters’ behaviour, glee at the references to Fassbinder’s work – makes this film well worth a look.

Water Drops On Burning Rocks (in French, with English subtitles) opens Fri, Dec 15 at the Carlton (20 Carlton St); call (416) 598-2309.