French sailor Querelle arrives in Brest and starts frequenting a strange whorehouse. He discovers that his brother Robert is the lover of the lady owner, Lysiane. Here, you can play dice ...
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French sailor Querelle arrives in Brest and starts frequenting a strange whorehouse. He discovers that his brother Robert is the lover of the lady owner, Lysiane. Here, you can play dice with Nono, Lysiane's husband : if you win, you are allowed to make love with Lysiane, if you lose, you have to make love with Nono... Querelle loses on purpose... Written by
A very difficult film, for many reasons. As a source novel, Genet's 'Querelle' presents a challenge for any adaptation but as this is R.W. Fassbinder's final work, one is compelled to ignore one's initial (poor) response and dig for signs of the vision seen elsewhere in his cannon.
This is a film that unrelentingly refuses to let the viewer in. Narrative is piled upon narrative which is further punctuated by Brechtian title cards containing quotes from a variety of sources (including, of course, Genet's novel). The high stylisation of setting and performance is deliberately off putting and distancing. In this world of almost exclusive homosexual desire, women are severely marginalised which leaves the great Jeanne Moreau with little to do other than warble a rather ridiculous (and ridiculously catchy) pop ditty that uses Oscar Wilde's 'Ballad of Reading Gaol' for lyrics. Here, choice of sexuality is symbolic for how one stands in opposition to social rules and true fulfilment and depth of being comes only in humility and, ultimately, humiliation. Of course, much of this overtly gay posturing can be seen simply as high camp and add an undeniable veneer of silliness which is, quite frankly, hard to shake off.
However, this is a deeply serious film. Maybe Fassbinder was simply looking to upset as many people as he could and the whole point is to alienate the viewer as much as possible, either into anger or submission. It's hard to fully know what to make of 'Querelle' but either way, although stunningly lit, it has little of the swagger or movement of his best work and comes across as rather staid and inert. But, again, possibly that's the point. Confusion and denial as to individual identity leads to frustration and random acts of violence (if only to oneself) and self imploding inertia. It's hard to criticise a film that is deliberate about these points but, ultimately, it is equally hard to like and finding a place for it is no easy task. Possibly a work to admire and provoke rather than one to enjoy.
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