The French naval ship, Le Vengeur, based out of Marseille, has just docked in Brest for an extended stay. The ship's captain, Lieutenant Seblon, can see the passion in his men, which can as easily manifest itself in violence as it can in sex. Seblon has in part become an officer to remain at arms length from his men, one of them, Querelle, with who he is secretly in love. Querelle goes to La Feria, a bar and makeshift whorehouse owned and operated by husband and wife Nono and Lysiane, one of the whores. La Feria is infamous and notorious as anyone wanting sex with Lysiane must first roll the dice with Nono, Nono winning meaning that he will get to sodomize the loser instead. At La Feria, Querelle is surprised to see his brother, Robert, who is Lysiane's current on-going sexual partner, and who did not have to go through the roll of the dice with Nono is his special position with Lysiane. That passion in Querelle extends to his brother, the two who share more than just a family ...Written by
The thought of murder often evokes thoughts of the sea and of sailors. What naturally follows thoughts of the sea and murder is the thought of love or sexuality.
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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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