Tuesday, June 04, 2019
Based on the novel Querelle of Brest by Jean Genet, Querelle is the story of a Belgian sailor who goes to a brothel following a betrayal on a fellow dealer as he deals with his sexuality and other things happening in and around this brothel. Directed and co-edited by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and screenplay by Fassbinder and Burkhard Driest, the film is an exploration of a man dealing with his identity following a murder he committed as the film would Fassbinder’s film released months after his death of a drug overdose. Starring Brad Davis, Franco Nero, Laurent Malet, Hanno Poschl, and Jeanne Moreau. Querelle is a ravishing and provocative film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
The film follows a Belgian sailor whose ship stops at a small French port town known for its seediness where he enters a brothel where he would engage in his first homosexual affair with its bartender leading to a journey of murder, deceit, and self-exploration for the titular character (Brad Davis). It’s a film that is about this small town filled with sailors, drug dealers, steel workers, and all sorts of people engaging in all sorts of decadence with this sailor who also works as a dealer as he kills another sailor over a deal. The film’s screenplay by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Burkhard Dreist with translated text of Jean Genet’s words and other text by Catherine Breillat is filled with a lot of different stories yet it centers around a murder of a sailor that Querelle committed but no one knows if he killed that man.
Querelle deals drugs including opium as he would also meet his brother Robert (Hanno Poschl) who is the lover of the brothel manager Lysiane (Jeanne Moreau). Lysiane’s husband Nono (Gunther Kaufmann) runs and tends the bar as he would get Querelle to play a game of dice where if Querelle wins, he would sleep with Lysiane but if Nono wins. Nono gets to fuck Querelle as the latter does happen where Querelle finds himself entranced by his encounter with Nono. Yet, things become troubling as it relates to Querelle’s relationship with his brother as Lysiane is fascinated by Querelle while Querelle is seen from afar by his superior in Lt. Seblon (Franco Nero) who pines for him. After killing the sailor Vic (Dieter Schodor), Querelle hangs around while a construction worker named Gil (Hanno Poschl) is the main suspect after a fight with another worker as it leads to suspicion but also Querelle trying to spin a web of lies and deceit around everyone. The script doesn’t just feature these storylines involving multiple characters that Querelle meets but also dialogue that is stylish as it also play into this air of intrigue as the film is partially told through an unseen narrator.
Fassbinder’s direction is definitely stylish where it is shot inside a studio to play up this sense of artificiality and fantasy that is prevalent throughout the film. The direction is filled with a lot of symbolism and attention to detail where Fassbinder makes no bones about the homoerotic content in the film from the phallic statues on the balcony, glimpses of shirtless sailors swabbing the deck in the background, glass paintings of sexual imagery at the brothel, and the gazing of men’s crotches throughout the film. The usage of close-ups help play into the emotional elements of the film but also this idea of identity as it’s presented in a stylish and expressionist approach with some medium shots for some shots to play into some of the dramatic tension. Fassbinder’s approach to the wide shots help play into the attention to detail into this small port town as there is this artificiality that surrounds the location but it also play into this idea of a gay man’s paradise.
With the aid of co-editor Juliane Lorenz, Fassbinder’s editing does have bits of style as it play more into the emotional and melodramatic elements of the film. Notably in a scene where Querelle and Gil meet to discuss a partnership as it play into the former’s need for control. Fassbinder also displays that air of style in a fight scene between Querelle and Robert as it play more like a dance than a knife fight. The direction also play into this sense of intrigue and desire while nothing overtly explicit is shown where Fassbinder instead aims for something emotional. The air of suspense as it relates to the murder does have Fassbinder sort of play with the conventions of the detective film as it reaches this climax that is more dramatic than suspenseful as well as revelations about Querelle’s own journey. Overall, Fassbinder crafts an intoxicating yet entrancing film about a Belgian sailor’s exploits in a small French port town and brothel.
Cinematographers Xaver Schwarzenberger and Josef Vavra do amazing work with the film’s overtly stylish cinematography with its usage of artificial lighting for many of the film’s exterior and interior setting with its usage of yellow and orange along with blue lights for a few key scenes as a form of moonlight. Production designer Rolf Zehetbauer and art director Walter E. Richarz do brilliant work with the look of the port city as well as the interiors of the brothel and some of the places including the phallic statues. Costume designers Barbara Baum and Monika Jacobs do fantastic work with the look of Lt. Seblon’s uniform, the sailor uniforms, the leather uniforms of the police, and the lavish clothing of Lysiane.
Makeup artists Ingrid Massmann-Korner and Gerhard Nemetz do terrific work with the look of Lysiane in her lavish makeup as someone desperately trying to regain a sense of her youth. The sound work of Hartmut Eichgrun and Vladimir Vizner do superb work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of the brothel and some of the places outside of the buildings. The film’s music by Peer Raben is incredible for its mixture of jazz-like pieces including a couple of songs that Lysiane sings as well as some eerie electronic-based pieces that play for dramatic effects and some lush orchestral pieces as it is a highlight of the film.
The film’s marvelous cast include notable small roles from Neil Bell as Gil’s lover Theo, Dieter Schidor as the sailor/dealer Vic Rivette, Burkhard Driest as the corrupt police officer Mario who is attracted to Querelle, Laurent Malet as a young sailor who observes some of the action, Roger Fritz as a police official, and Gunther Kauffmann as the brothel bartender Nono who sort of runs the brothel and other things as he would decide Querelle’s self-exploration fate.
Hanno Poschl is excellent in his dual role as Querelle’s brother Robert and the construction worker Gil where he displays a sense of torment and anguish in the former as someone who has some issues with his brother while he is a more charismatic figure as the latter as someone that is in love but is also dealing with trouble when he’s been accused of killing Vic. Franco Nero is fantastic as Lieutenant Seblon as a naval officer who pines for Querelle from afar as a man who records his thoughts on a tape recorder while is also concerned for Querelle’s well-being. Jeanne Moreau is amazing as Lysiane as the brothel owner who also sings as she is someone that is entranced by Querelle but is also concerned about what he might bring to the brothel. Finally, there’s Brad Davis in an amazing performance as the titular character as this sailor/drug dealer who murders a fellow dealer and later encounters his first homosexual experience as he deals with his sexuality and role in life while trying to manipulate and control everything as it’s a sleazy yet charismatic performance from Davis.
Querelle is a phenomenal film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder that features great performances from Brad Davis, Jeanne Moreau, Hanno Poschl, and Franco Nero. Along with its gorgeous visuals, rapturous music score, and themes of sexual identity and dominance, it is a film that display this idea of fantasy, reality, and longing but also a world that is dark with a young man trying to control everything. Even as it is shown in grand display without any kind of compromise which is a great way for Fassbinder to go in his final film. In the end, Querelle is a sensational film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films: Love is Colder than Death - (Katzelmacher) - (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) - (Rio das Mortes) - (The American Soldier) - (Whity) - (Beware of a Holy Whore) - (The Merchant of Four Seasons) - The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant - World on a Wire - Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - (Martha (1974 film)) - (Effi Briest) - (Fox and His Friends) - (Mother Kuster’s Trip to Heaven) - Satan's Brew - (Chinese Roulette) - (Germany in Autumn) - (Despair) - (In a Year of 13 Moons) - The Marriage of Maria Braun - (Third Generation) - (Berlin Alexanderplatz) - (Lili Marleen) - Lola (1981 film) - Veronika Voss
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