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Querelle

April 19, 2016

QuerThis is one of Fassbinder’s few films shot in English. The film derives from Jean Genet’s book, although the author would be surprised to see a video arcade, decades before its invention, in this adaptation. But such anachronistic shocks (there are others) are as intention as Fassbinder’s revolutionary extremes, even for him, image and sound: as he states, on a title card in the opening credits, this is a film about Genet’s novel, not a mere pasteurisation. Fassbinder captures the fever-dream quality of Genet’s decadent prose poetry, through his impossibly garish lighting and bizarre sets (how many forts boast ten-foot-tall phalluses as both strategic defence barriers and ornamentation). But more than Genet, this picture is unmistakably Fassbinder.

Plot:

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.

One day, Lysiane reads the tarot for her lover, Robert , and learns in the cards of his intense passion for his brother, Querelle. Querelle himself soon arrives, and the brothers enact a bizarre greeting halfway between a hug and a wrestling match. Querelle, it seems, is looking for partners in a drug deal; Robert points him in the right direction. An argument about the merits of sex between men soon leads Querelle to murder his fellow smuggler,

Origins:

This is a surrealistic adaptation of writer and thief Jean Genet’s novel Querelle de Brest by avant-garde German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Ambience:

The very artificial set is always bathed in a warm red glow, and is dotted with castle towers that are, literally, shaped like penises. The hell-like atmosphere oozes homo-eroticism at every turn, and every character is defined by his sexuality. One gets the impression that Fassbinder was trying to depict his favourite wet dream on celluloid. While obviously the work of a once-brilliant artist, many incoherent scenes suggest that the director’s drug-use was taking its toll.

Moreau singing Oscar Wilde’s Ballad Of Reading Gaol. In a scene of repressed intimacy, the sound of dripping water conjures up a visceral likeness of lovemaking. Multiple voiceovers not only layer the story but openly invite us to view characters in a specific way. The religious or operatic connotations of an a cappella choir encourage a mythical reading beyond the merely human or specific.

Religious imagery

Quer 3Rings feature a great deal, presumably for their religious connotations but also for the binding they represent cf. the recurring images of the seaman’s rope, chains, rosaries, pieces of clothing, blankets, and a whole series of repeated patterns by which Genet represents the binding together of men.

The dominant colour in QUERELLE is orange.  Orange is also the colour most commonly used to depict the god Bacchus (or, in the Greek pantheon Dionysus) who inter alia was the god of fertility.  As the mid-point between yellow and red, orange also represents the balance between spirit and libido.  Fassbinder sometimes darkens the shade of orange, indicating a shift towards the libido, or lust; sometimes it lightens, towards yellow, indicating divine love.

Another duality, this time black and white, is applied to Querelle’s personality as depicted through his clothes.  He is often seen in his white sailor’s uniform, representing innocence and purity, sometimes with his dark naval coat worn over it, and in one sequence is covered head to foot in coal dust, the primeval antithesis of white.

A frequent setting is decorated with vulgar graffiti and graphic Kama-Sutra-style etchings.

In Genet’s book, Lieutenant Seblon’s warship lies anchored in the Roads off Brest, and his longing for Georges Querelle mounts with each day; yet no sooner has the able-bodied seaman rebutted his advances on the grounds that he is suffering from a dose of clap, than the lieutenant’s vivid vision of ‘an ulcerated penis’ becomes instantly linked with that of ‘a guttering Easter candle to which five grains of incense had become encrusted.’ The passage is highly characteristic: the ideal Genet reader must have both a strong stomach and a taste for religious imagery that is heavily baroque. St Theresa of Avila’s delight when the angel plunged a golden dart into her and the assault left her aflame with Divine Love is an experience that Genet fully understands.

Querelle whispers to Seblon that “afterwards I may rest across your thighs, as a pieta, and you will watch over me as Mary watches over the dead Jesus.”

Earlier, a scene where a young man portrays Christ carrying his cross, leading a procession, is followed by the murder and blood-letting. Some sort of stonement?

On the last page, the madam of a brothel dreams of her lovers and sees them all united as one—`They is singing.’ Would it be too far-fetched to see in that use of is a development of the doctrine that in Christ ‘we are all one’?

 Plaudits or otherwise:

Critically derided even by many of Fassbinder’s admirers, Querelle earned a Golden Raspberry award for Worst “Original” Song for “Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves,” an Oscar Wilde poem set to music by Peer Raben and sung repeatedly by Jeanne Moreau.

One juror resigned after releasing the following statement: “I would love to make a personal statement. While being President of the Jury, I would love to express my disappointment in not having been able to convince my colleagues to place R.W. Fassbinder’s ‘Querelle’ among the winners. As a matter of fact, I’ve found myself alone in defending the movie. Nevertheless, I keep on thinking that, although controversial, R.W. Fassbinder’s final movie, want it or not, love it or hate it, will one day find its place in the history of cinema”.

Critical opinions on the film differed. Andy Warhol told Fassbinder that it made him hard and The Advocate called it a “pretentious bore.” I, myself, have seen it several times over the last decade and I still don’t know what to make of it. Yet Querelle’s images have haunted me for most of my adult life. Love it or hate it, no viewer will ever forget

Feminists have remarked how Fassbinder challenges stereotypical images of older women, for instance. Moreau, about 60 years of age at the time of this film, plays a strongly sexual woman.

At times there are almost Shakespearean touches. “He wrapped himself in prudence,

“He waited for the angel to strike.” The narrator is describing a murderer, just after the act. It prepares us for an Iago-like theme that will follow. This gritty, sometimes murderous backdrop of the sailors on shore leave also gives the non-gay viewer some respite.

The theme of murder is given a psychological depth as the murderer is viewed without ethical consideration: “Added to the moral solitude of the murderer comes the solitude of the artist, which can acknowledge no authority save that of another artist.”

Quer 2“You’ve destroyed me. You have mystical powers. They multiply infinitely.” You cannot look away.

Narrator: And humility can only be born of humiliation, otherwise it is nothing but vanity.

Lysiane: [singing] Each man kills the thing he loves!

It’s okay with me.
Perhaps love is a den of killers, and if this is true…
will Querelle draw me into it?
And I?
When the time comes for me to drown in my emotion for Querelle…

which seems to be his own will and his own destiny.
The scene we shall relate is a transposition of the event…
which revealed Querelle to us.
We can say that it is comparable to the Visitation.
Okay, you can go now.

I’ve become less of a disciplinarian.
My love makes me softer.
The more I love Querelle…
the more gentle and definite…
the sadder the woman in myself becomes…

because she cannot achieve fulfillment.
During one of these strange revelations…
defining my relationship with Querelle…
I think amidst all these sorrows and inner defeats…
“What’s the point?”

cradling a dead Jesus.
That’s the guy who shot me. I recognize him.
Querelle, finally!
Why did you keep me waiting so long?
You want to hurt me?

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From → Film, Sexuality

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