Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Writers: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Burkhard Driest
Producers: Michael McLernon, Dieter Schidor, Sam Waynberg
Starring: Brad Davis, Franco Nero, Jeanne Moreau, Laurent Malet, Hanno Poschi
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 108 min.
Those who are new to the prolific works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, may fare better than to start with the German’s final film: Querelle based on the novel Querelle de Brest by Jean Genet. First released just after the AIDS virus was clinically observed in the eighties, Querelle, is a film about homosexuality that may have come across as bold at the time of its creation. However looking back at the film with fresher modern eyes has Querelle, looking a little jaded.
Davis plays Querelle, a sailor and thief whose swagger is only matched by his lack of morals. Arriving at a stop off in Brest, Querelle’s mere appearance causes issues with the locals of a Traven he frequents. Soon murder, robbery and sexual politics begin to invade the lives of those who surround themselves with the enigmatic young man.
Respect must be due to Fassbinder’s forthright approach to the film. Shot in 20 days, Querelle is an audacious piece which is drenched in expressionistic color, golden hues and grand set design. We know what we’re in for from the very beginning with Franco Nero, playing a lovelorn Captain, gazing down at glistening, sculpted bodies of his work force. The cast carry off their bravado, throwing caution to the wind if any of the heterosexual actors felt nervous about the material (Nero apparently had reservations), it doesn’t show.
While being radical in theme for the time, Querelle,has been somewhat ravaged by age. Since the film’s conception, the world has changed somewhat. While we still see aggressive rallying against homosexuality (e.g Russia), the transgressions as a whole feel quite tame. Save for one particular sequence, Querelle does little to shock and its allegorical pursuits no longer hold weight. Meanwhile the films liberal uses of sexual terms do little to distract from the philosophical ennui. All posturing aside, we never really get under the skin of Querelle , although some may gesture that’s the point.
Despite unfortunately reminding me of a mixture of The Blue Oyster Bar and the Saturday Night Fever, flashback in Airplane!, Querelle is still a particular sight to behold. The use of deep teal blues and searing oranges are a leap apart from the typical combinations (of the same colours) we see now and the melodramatic displays still have a certain amount of conviction. However while the film may stand out as Fassbinders final entry to the world of cinema, newer audiences may have to set their sights elsewhere to excite their sense of provocation.
An introduction to Querelle, and a brief retrospective of the film’s creation give insight to Fassbinder’s frantic production and help highlight and illustrate the themes.