First Francois Ozon film, and it’s kind of a doozy. Based on a play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, it’s neatly divided into four acts, and it contains a bit of a theatrical element with a little song-and-dance number to lighten an otherwise difficult mood. The players here are intentionally hard to love or even to like, one in particular. Film’s first half is homosexual and the second half heterosexual, making the film as a whole just plain sexual. It’s the men who waver between the two orientations. One starts out one way, the second starts out the other way, and each of them does a flip. The third “man” in the film is no longer a man, since an operation took care of his extra equipment and lack of other assets.
Ozon, being a gay man, can presumably take a script written by another gay man and make it into a film that, to the naked eye, associates homosexuality with being a deeply unlikeable person without creating offense. But really, the film’s grammar, style, and tone resist that sort of correlation and make it more about the problems with being people and with being in love. Franz becomes the proverbial “bitch” to Leopold, and boy does he ever, without the faintest hint of discontent. His willingness to live under the iron fist of his new male lover is painful to watch, which may reveal more about the spectator’s psychology than anything else. But it’s not that simple. The film goes far out of its way to make of Franz and Leopold the traditional heteronormative couple, giving them traditional “male”-“female” roles that fall easily into husband-wife stereotypes. If anything, Ozon/Fassbinder is saying outright that homosexual relationships are fundamentally the same as heterosexual ones, prone to fall prey to a power struggle or an acceptance of power hierarchy. Further, the same sort of “sickness of eros” that Antonioni famously deplored is applicable to homosexuals, Ozon demonstrates. When past female lovers show up, trying to win their men back, it only works insofar as Leopold is bored with Franz, and Franz has been hurt by and is reacting against Leopold.
Leopold’s quantity-over-quality approach to the bedroom becomes the final straw for Franz, whose suicidal response to his lovers’ polygamy perhaps implies the necessity of monogamy, or on the contrary perhaps the impossibility of putting one’s faith in monogamy. Either way, whether the film means it or not, evident here is the dead end of unfaithfulness and obsession. At least one of these two ingredients is always present in the beginning of each disaster within the film.