Querelle

Better than nothing
★★★
☆
Released: 
1982
Director: 
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Starring: 
Brad Davis, Franco Nero, Jeanne Moreau, Laurent Malet
The Setup: 
Fassbinder adaptation of Jean Genet's best-known novel.
Discussion: 

Alrighty then, it's the adaptation of Querelle, by Rainer Maria Fassbinder! It was Fassbinder's last film, and was released postumously, a few months after his drug overdose. And if you're gay and have ever had a Genet phase [which you totally, totally should], you'll snap it up! And you'll be disappointed. But then you'll realize that a Genet adaptation by Fassbinder is better than no adaptation at all (or one by Ron Howard, haha). That was my feeling when I first saw this, years ago, and is still my feeling upon reviewing it now.

Numerous promising elements are in place. Brad Davis (of Midnight Express) is the main character, who is supposed to be one of those complete embodiments of hot raw masculinity, which Davis fits handily. Franco Nero is the Lieutenant who is sexually obsessed with him, and sharp move bringing in established man-hunk Nero into this homo realm. Jeanne Moreau is a aged floozy, and the rest of the film is cast with the idea of bringing Genet's super homosexually-charged atmosphere to life, sweaty sailors in tight white clothes, you know the deal. Apparently Fassbinder was approached by this producer with a script (who had previously approached John Schlesinger and Sam Peckenpah[!]--what an interesting film THAT would have been) and Fassbinder essentially threw out the script to make a less plot-focused, more emotional film, which is a smart move: if you've read Querelle, the most important things are the writing and the atmosphere, and frankly, after two readings, I didn't even know there WAS a plot.

There is a narrator, who speaks in a flat monotone, and opens the film by saying "The thought of murder often evokes thoughts of the sea, and sailors, and what naturally follows is the thought of love and sexuality." Well, not to me, but it does sound like Genet. We are in the seaside town of Brest, hotbed of sex and vice, and immediately you notice that Fassbinder shot all of this on a set, which gives it all a false, super-stylized look, which is perfect. Don't miss the cock-shaped turrets! Honestly, I had seen this movie twice before, and I CANNOT believe that I missed the cock-shaped turrets. In fact, pretty much everywhere you look in this film is a picture of a cock. Anyway, Robert, Querelle's brother, is dating Lysiane [Moreau], who is the wife of Nono, nightclub owner. There is much talk that Robert and Querelle don't get along because they love each other so much, and soon they are embracing, while also punching one another, in a fight that's "more like a lover's quarrel." Meanwhile, Lieutenant Seblong [that's Nero] is staring at Querelle as he makes extensive recordings about how moving he finds him.

Things continue. There's a policeman hanging around who, uh, looks like no policeman I've seen. It's just a big, overheated atmosphere of lust. You have things like a big macho guy kissing a pretty boy and telling him, under some heavy petting, how he wants to fuck his sister, who looks exactly like him. All of the guys, including Querelle, insist that they're not queer. Querelle comes onto this fellow Vic, then murders him, with Vic grabbing his own crotch as he dies, explicitly made to look like he's cumming. Then Querelle wants to sleep with Lysiane [uh, WHY?] but, to do so, has to roll the dice with Nono, who plays this game with everyone who wants to screw his wife, and the loser gets fucked by Nono before rolling with Lysiane. Querelle smartly loses, given big hunky studly Nono, and there's a scene of relatively explicit anal sex [I had to draw the shades of my apartment, let's put it that way]. Soon after, Querelle is getting fucked by the cop. Hard times for our hapless hero.

Then this strapping fellow Gil kills this vicious queen bear-type, and hides out with his insipid pretty-boy boyfriend. Querelle comes around, sends the pretty boy packing, and offers Gil a way out--while also pinning the murder of Vic on him. He tells Gil to rob Seblon, which Gil fucks up, being a boob, and Querelle turns him in and--poof! No more murder rap. Then Seblon confesses his love for Querelle, and the two of them repair back to the ship, proving that true love CAN conquer all, and uber-hot murderous thugs can run off with Italian pulp movie star hunks! The love boat soon will be making another run.

So, a giant mess, but definitely, as they say, a HOT mess. Essentially, there's nothing else like it, and while it doesn't work, you're unlikely to find anything else that approximates the spirit and essence of Genet's writing. So thank God it exists, even though I'm not going to need to watch it again for another thirty years.

Incidentally, there is a short film by Genet himself, Un Chant D'Amour, that is essential for the Genet fan, and definitely evokes the dreamy romanticism that suffuses his works, especially in a scene in which a prisoner blows smoke through a hole in the wall for his paramour to inhale. And, like everything, it's available on YouTube, right here.

Should you watch it: 

If you're a Genet fan, you kind of have to, but don't get your hopes up. If you're gay and haven't read Genet, you have a serious problem.