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Water Drops on Burning Rocks

Passion and kindness fail to coexist in this perverse French-language comedy, adapted from an early stage play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.


Set in 1970s Germany, Leopold, a 50-something businessman, picks up and brings home 19-year-old Franz, who is on his way to meet his fiancée. After a speedy, sweet seduction, they set up house and become as comfortable as old, bickering shoes. Perservering Franz plays an apron-sporting housewife to surly, petulant Leopold. But after Anna, Franz's ex-fiancée, shows up and wins him back, Franz adopts the same short temper towards Anna that Leopold showed to him. When Leopold comes home and Vera, his transsexual ex-lover, arrives on the scene, cruelty, sex, spontaneous line dancing and tragedy all ensue.


Bernard Giraudeau gives a provocative performance as the self-assured, seductive Leopold, who becomes cruel when the first blush of infatuation fades. Carrot-top Malik Zidi is appealing as smitten boy-toy Franz, who is bewildered by the abuse. Seemingly young and innocent, Ludivine Sagnier's sweet Anna sets out to steal back Franz with tender determination, but ends up becoming a ravenous sex kitten under Leopold's thumb. As the tragic transsexual Vera, Anna Levine gives the film's only truly sympathetic performance. She alone introduces a sad humanity to this ironic, flip film.


Francois Ozon brings a deadpan, so-subtle-it's-nearly-nonexistent humor to this unstaged play that was written by a then-19-year-old Fassbinder. The film, which won The Berlin International Film Festival's Teddy Award for Best Feature, keeps emotional insensitivity as commonplace and a source of humor. An odd fish of a film, Ozon has concocted a sullen meditation on sexual domination that turns into a quirky sex farce and, finally, a half-hearted tragedy.

Bottom Line

Though water dropped on burning rocks usually produces steam, this film merely produces a vague indifference.


Starring Bernard Giraudeau, Malik Zidi, Ludivine Sagnier and Anna Thomson.

Directed by Francois Ozon. Produced by Marc Missionier and Kenzo Horikoshi. Screenplay adapted by Francois Ozon. Released by Zeitgeist Films.