Querelle (1982) | Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s surreal take on Jean Genet’s homoerotic tale of lust and murder
Brad Davis is Georges ‘Jo’ Querelle, a sexually brazen, amoral sailor who struts his sensuality for all to admire and swoon. An opium smuggler and serial killer, Querelle murders fellow sailor Vic and takes refuge at a seaside brothel, where he must submit himself to a drug dealer in order to win the affections of aging chanteuse Madame Lysiane (Jeanne Moreau). With a predatory cop looking for Vic’s murderer, Querelle hatches a plan to make a construction worker (Hanno Pöschl) take the fall for him, unaware that his closeted commanding officer (Franco Nero) knows he murdered Vic.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was personally at his lowest ebb when he worked on Jean Genet’s 1947 existential homoerotic novel of lust and murder. The irascible wunderkind of New German Cinema – and one of the most original film talents to emerge from Europe in the 1970s – was highly sought after for his creative talent, but deeply troubled. Shortly after filming Querelle, Fassbinder died, aged just 37, from a combination of cocaine, sleeping pills and alcohol, leaving behind a wealth of 44 films and career that spanned less that 13 years.
Querelle may lack the magic and power of Fassbinder’s greatest works, like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant or the supremely elegant Effi Briest, but the director’s final film does show him ‘perilously venturing into new frontiers’. With unabashed queer sensibility Fassbinder captures the raw energy of Jenet’s themes of violence, passion, degradation and sexual submission, while his stylised, purposefully artificial sets, complete with it’s cock-shaped towers and other exaggerated phallic symbols (which are reminiscent of James Bidgood’s 1971 arthouse cult Pink Narcissus), give Jenet’s highly-charged novel the ideal surreal stage to swagger about on (and harks back to the French artist’s own experimental stagings of The Maids and The Balcony and The Blacks) – all set against an eternal technicolor sunset that channels Fassbinder’s love of Douglas Sirk’s 1950s melodramas. Querelle may not be Fassbinder’s best film, but its potent themes, stylised staging and Davis’ narcissistic performance make it a fascinating, and dare I say it, arousing, oddity.
THE UK DVD RELEASE
The Artificial Eye Blu-ray and DVD release presents the film in its 16 x 9/ 2:35:1 aspect ratio with a choice of English, German or French languages, with English subtitles. The extras include an introduction by Tin Drum director Volker Schlöndorff (in French, with subtitles), and the mini-documentary, Twilight of the Bodies: Fassbinder in Search of Querelle (33mins, in French with subtitles).
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from 10 March 2014, and is also available to stream on-line from Artificial Eye Films on YouTube
Images in the Dark: An Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video, Raymond Murray, TLA Publications, 1995
Posted on March 10, 2014, in Classic World Cinema, Might See, Might-See, World Cinema and tagged Artificial Eye Films, Brad Davis, Franco Nero, Hanno Pöschl, Homoerotic drama, Jean Genet, Jeanne Moreau, Might See, New German Cinema, Querelle, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, World Cinema. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.