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Querelle

Querelle

By Patrick Samuel • November 10th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
QUERELLE (MOVIE)
Gaumont

Original release: September 8th, 1982
Running time: 108 minutes

Country of origin: West Germany, France

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Writers Burkhard Driest, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jean Genet

Cast: Brad Davis, Franco Nero, Jeanne Moreau, Laurent Malet, Roger Bataille, Hanno Pöschl

Querelle

Was it the alluring front cover of the VHS that made me pick it up from the shelf at the rental shop? Definitely. It was 1992, I was only 14 at the time, had never heard of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the sight of Brad Davis standing so alluringly with a steamy sunset behind him was already too much for my imagination to bear. Casually I walked over to the guy at the till with a couple more videos as I tried to hide that Querelle was the one I really wanted to see. Without even looking up at me, asking my age or for ID he went about locating it on the shelves behind him and I breathed a deep sigh of relief. The next step was waiting until my parents went to bed before I dared to slip it into the VHS player.

What I saw that night left me both baffled and aroused to the point of exhaustion, and to be honest, I’ve never quite seen a film like Querelle again. It’s the story of an impossibly handsome Belgian sailor Georges Querelle, played by Brad Davis who looks every inch the part as he struts around suggestively in his sailor pants, a vest that barely contains his muscled torso, unbuttoned coat and cap. Our sailor is no angel though; he’s a thief and a murderer and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Seblon (Franco Nero), is obsessed with him.

When his ship pulls into Brest, Querelle visits the Feria, a bar and brothel for sailors that’s run by the Madame Lysiane (Jeanne Moreau), whose lover Robert (Hanno Pöschl) is his brother whom he has a love/hate relationship with. The brothers greet each other with hugs and punches to the stomach while Lysiane’s husband Nono (Günther Kaufmann) tends bar and manages La Feria’s seedier side of business together with a corrupt police captain, Mario (Burkhard Driest).

Querelle

Later that night, after selling opium and murdering his accomplice Vic (Dieter Schidor), Querelle makes it known that he wants to sleep with Lysiane, who’s in love with him, but first he has to play dice with her husband. Nono does this with all his wife’s potential lovers. Playing a game of chance, the rules stipulate that if Querelle wins he gets to sleep with Lysiane, but if he loses, his ass belongs to Nono. He says to Querelle “That way, I can say my wife only sleeps with assholes.” What’s surprising though is that Querelle seems to deliberately throw the game and he willingly spreads himself across the table. We see Nono spitting into the palm of his hand before giving the sailor a good rogering. The pained expression on his face suggests it’s his first time or Nono’s over-endowed or both.

Robert, who never had to submit to Nono, ends up fighting with his brother afterward but later on we see Querelle having sex with Lysiane and then with Mario. Though it also seems the brothers have an incestuous relationship, matters get even more complicated when Querelle meets a fellow murderer, Gil (also played by Hanno Pöschl) and falls in love with him, but Gil’s in love with the sweet-faced Roger Querelle (Laurent Male). It’s the first time Querelle’s allows himself to feel these emotions and it scares him to be so vulnerable. Inevitably Querelle betrays the man he loves and in the process he also ends up submitting to the obsessive Lieutenant Seblon’s desires, who protects him from the long arm of the law.

Though Querelle’s plot is somewhat convoluted and might’ve been more suited to a mini-series, it’s filmed in deep and intense colours that give it an almost expressionistic look. Together with its Tom of Finland-like images and phallic set design, it makes it a film I can’t think of without feeling slightly dirty. As well as its terrible songs (“Each Man Kills The Things He Loves”), there’s also some atrocious acting to be found here too, but the one thing which makes it irresistible to watch is Brad Davis who’d starred in Alan Parker’s Midnight Express just a few years before. As the sailor who inevitably ends up killing the thing he loves his portrayal is spot on and it’s because of him the film exudes this strong musky quality that smells like sex.

Yet for an art-house film I’ve seen much better, for example Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane (1976) and The Last of England (1987) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò (1975) remain much more alluring pieces of work for their imagery and narratives while Querelle never manages to gel the two together. Though considered daring at the time in its depiction of Querelle’s escapades with both genders it’s really a film that would’ve benefited a lot more from a tighter script and a story that didn’t meander as much. It’s left to Davis to carry the film which he does remarkably well and it’s because of him I remember this film with the same rose tinted lenses it was probably shot with.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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