A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, May 22, 2017

Querelle (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982)

It's tempting to make jokes about Rainer Werner Fassbinder's last film, Querelle, which does sometimes look like a staging of Billy Budd designed by Tom of Finland. But for all its often overheated, overstylized, absurd moments, there is a a deep sadness at the core of the film. It was made, after all, at the beginning of the age of AIDS, from which its star, Brad Davis, would die. And even though it misses the poetry of the novel by Jean Genet on which Fassbinder and Burkhard Driest based their screenplay, it contains the essential sympathy for transgressors and outcasts that marks the work of both Genet and Fassbinder. That it no longer has the power to shock -- you can see far more outrageous images and situations on pay TV channels almost any night of the week -- almost works to its benefit. It has become a period piece almost before its time, but to say that it's "dated" is to miss the point. Querelle reflects an age of repression: The central character of the film, I think, is Franco Nero's Lt. Seblon, dictating his lust for Querelle into his tape recorder, watching the less-inhibited society of Lysiane (Jeanne Moreau), Nono (Günther Kaufmannn), and the others who circle around Querelle like moths, swooping in for satisfaction and sometimes getting their wings singed. Is it a good film? No. The performances -- especially Davis's, whose line readings are sometimes amateurish -- don't measure up. The interpolated religious symbolism feels trite. The narrative, especially when it involves Gil and his double, Robert (Hanno Pöschl), is confusingly handled. But is it worth being annoyed and disappointed by? Absolutely.

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