DVD Review: QUERELLE (1982)

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Querelle Review

Review: Querelle / Cert: 18 / Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder / Screenplay: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Burkhard Driest / Starring: Brad Davis, Franco Nero, Laurent Malet / Release Date: March 10th

Fassbinder's work has always divided critics, and the 44th and final film in his canon is certainly no exception. Based on Jean Genet's novel Querelle de Brest, it concerns the titular sailor's (Davis, of Midnight Express) misadventures in the red-light port of Brest, where he enters into a vortex of petty crime, murder, and brutal sexual discovery.

With its dreamlike, surrealist texture and relentless homoeroticism, Querelle will certainly never be accused of being entertainment for the masses. Instead it stands as a compelling work from one of the all time great arthouse filmmakers. There's a wilful unreality about the proceedings that one can't help but admire.

The narrative is completely bound to a handful of extravagant but intentionally stagey sets by award-winning Cabaret and Das Boot production designer Rolf Zehetbauer, which even include an obviously painted sunset. The temporal location is similarly uncertain, seeming like somewhere in the postwar years (the setting of Genet's book) but for the presence of video games, modern Japanese motorcycles, and most of the cast being clad either in Village People S&M outfits or fancy dress sailors' uniforms. Allied to the visuals, frequent Fassbinder collaborator Peer Rabal's score summons up a palpable atmosphere of dread.

Sadly, Fassbinder bungles the denouement's final twist so badly that it almost seems like an afterthought. An almost omnipresent voice-over relating portions of Genet's novel and quotes from religious texts also grates, over-explaining and philosophising around each new incident, and some of the dialogue, surreal in intent or not, at some points comes over as just plain dumb. In addition to this, Jean Moreau's song, 'Each Man Kills the Things he Loves', repeated ad nauseam, is too obvious and, quite frankly, absolutely bloody awful.

However, gripes aside, Querelle remains a fascinating piece of outsider cinema, and a memento of a period when it really did feel as though film was moving into uncharted and challenging new territory.

Extras: Mini documentary / Introduction by Volker Schlondorff / Original trailer

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