Returning to my quest of watching every Francois Ozon film I finally got hold of Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brulantes today. It’s a far more stylised and raw film than Ozon’s later works. There’s a roughness in the quality, the camera movements are not so well-oiled. Despite being his third feature, it feels almost like a prototype of Ozon’s work that would extend outward into everything he made subsequently.
From the opening scenes you feel the weight of cinematic history bearing down on the characters. The acts are boldly denominated in the style of the nouvelle vague. The characters sit in choreographed symmetrical spaces, it’s like Wes Anderson before Wes Anderson got the stylistic monopoly on framing things neatly. The cinematography is deliberate; the camera is as much a character as anyone on the screen. As a viewer we hover in the space, swerving and following the characters nearly everywhere. The tempting glances into what we’re not shown only add to the feeling of claustrophobia that the characters display. We are an unwanted voyeur in their space, but we can’t escape it any more than they can. It’s a literal thing, the camera never leaves the apartment, except for a few shots showing us apartment windows that isolate the inhabitants as if in prison cells. By the end of the film you’re gasping for sunlight, fresh air, anything but you remain as trapped as you were in the beginning.
The intrigue in the film is how you are pulled in in the same way as those on screen. Franz, a young engaged man, meets Leopold, an older businessman, who propositions him in a somewhat predatory manner. You feel as if Franz should run away at this point but yet you want to see it play out. This curiosity pulls all three of the other characters and the viewer towards Leopold, despite him being objectively unattractive and objectionable. However don’t take this to mean that the film is weighty or serious. In one unforgettable scene the film finally decides to throw the balancing act between satire and drama out the window and plunge into what feels like comedy set pieces. Yet through all of this there’s still the tragic undertones being experienced by Franz. Zidi is sensitive as a performer, bringing out the confusion and anguish of someone who seems stuck in a parody of their own life. His portrayal shows that it is indeed just as unsettling as one would imagine. Even throughout the more surreal twists and turns Zidi remains as the sane everyman in this universe of tragic coincidences and comic timing.
It’s a thoughtful piece but entertaining, there are deep and terrible questions raised by the series of events. Reframed, it could be a Shakesperean tragedy. Ozon refuses, and in true style gives us an absurdist existentialist piece of entertainment, after all, they’re only characters, it’s not like the tragedy even exists!
- Entertainment: 4/5
- Artistic: 4/5
- Intellectual: 4/5