AFTER WATCHING François Ozon's Criminal Lovers and Water Drops on Burning Rocks, I went to a CD store and bought Claude Debussy's PrĂ©lude Ă  l'aprĂšs-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun). This orchestral work--which was composed in 1894, and based on a poem by StĂ©phane MallarmĂ©--is an erotic masterpiece. It attempts the impossible: to capture the doubt or skepticism one feels when awakening from a night of drunken sex (well, at least that is how I interpret it). Yes, you seduced your desire, brought the person home, had sex; but when you awoke the following morning (or midday), your lover was gone! And for a moment you wondered, like the faun in MallarmĂ©'s poem, "Was last night real or a dream?"--"Aimai-je un rĂȘve?"

I bought this CD (and also a small book containing the art of another French impressionist, Edgar Degas--Peasant Girls Bathing in the Sea at Dusk, A Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers, Room in a Brothel, and so on) because I needed to recover from François Ozon's "dark erotics." Degas and Debussy are not dark, they love the light and haze of sex; Ozon, on the other hand, loathes sex. He despises its beauty and pleasures, and wants to destroy it by pulling back the velvet curtains and exposing what he believes to be the horrible core of sex. Or, to put it another way, to reveal "the terrible structure of sex," as the American philosopher James Lattiere once put in his essay on the art of slicing.

In 1996, Ozon made a beautiful short called A Summer Dress, which was about a Spanish woman (Lucia Sanchez) who seduces a handsome gay teenager (SĂ©bastien Charles) in the forest. The rustling leaves, the sunlight, their sex noises--it was pure Impressionistic art. Indeed, even Debussy, who once said "pleasure is the law," would have loved it, put music to it. But this short, which I think stands as Ozon's greatest work, was a success only because he did not attempt to explain or explode it. The surface remained intact and perfect. Had he broken the image and opened it up, as he increasingly does, we would have been subjected to a delirious series of surreal, psychic shocks. Indeed, Criminal Lovers and A Summer Dress share one root image: a gay man and a beautiful woman having missionary sex in the forest. The difference is, in Criminal Lovers, this image is achieved only after the couple have brutally murdered an Arab teenager (Arabs have it hard in French films), eaten his leg, robbed a bakery, run over a rabbit, and been caged and raped by "l'homme de forĂȘt (the man of the forest)."

Ozon's artistic mission is simply to present "the bloody machinery of sex," as Henry Miller once described it. Even his latest film, Water Drops on Burning Rocks (which he didn't write--it is based on a play by German filmmaker R. W. Fassbinder), leads us to the same brutal conclusion: sex = death. Set in the '70s, the movie is about a handsome and pompous 50-year-old businessman (Bernard Giraudeau) who seduces a very young man named Franz (Malik Zidi). The film is not bad; indeed, it has three things working in its favor. One, it does not hide the fact that it is based on a play, so there is no tension between the forms--here, cinema effortlessly surrenders to theater. Two, the apartment in which the entire movie is set is fascinating, because we never get a clear sense of how big it is or where the rooms are located. It's never stable or fixed, but dreamy and fluid. And three, with the exception of the strange and aged transvestite, the main characters are beautiful. But Ozon is not satisfied with this splendid surface. He must once again show us the ugly underbelly--reveal that violence, anger, cruelty, and death all structure the moment of intercourse.

All in all, Ozon (who is a talented filmmaker, by the way) is frustrating because he is psychological. He actually believes in deep structures, hidden motives, the subconscious--all those vulgar surprises that reside in the obscurity of our being. François Ozon should get out of the cave of the mind, with its blood on the walls and bones on the ground, and, like the lovers in Summer Dress or the flute-playing faun in Debussy's Prélude à l'aprÚs-midi d'un faune, just enjoy the sun.