Is This Who We are?
“Querelle” according to director Fassbinder is about “a guy whose soul transforms in a crocodile’s one”. Querelle the man is a modern mythic man, a narcissist, an opium dealer and a murderer, a mariner and a thief. He is the best and the worst of all worlds. In the film Jeanne Moreau sings in her throaty voice what seems to be the theme of the movie, “All men kill those who love”.
Fassbinder ended hi career with “Querelle”; it was his swan song. It was also a film of memories for him as he seemed to cast all of the characters of his former movies into it—in disguise and if you are not alert you may miss them.
Based on Jean Genet’s book “Querelle de Brest”, Fassbinder chose to use the language of the book as dialog and as somewhat of a masturbatory narration in order to give the movie a certain atmosphere that begins to feel like poetic graffiti.
Querelle (Brad Davis) is a sailor in search of himself and in danger of finding out just who he is. He is strong and this commands respect from those that he knows. He is beautiful of countenance and this raised desires of others. He is so conflicted internally that he drives himself to self destruction while he explores his own deviant feelings. His lust brings him to violence and his denial degrades him, sex for him becomes violent and violence becomes love for him. He is simple and complex at the same time. He is both vulnerable and malevolent and this is what the action of the film revolves around. Yet the star of the film is the port of Brest that is pornographic in its very existence. The men that frequent the port are archetypes as familiar as the men created by the notorious Tom of Finland.
Unlike the overt homosexuality that pervades the films of today, “Querelle” is soaking with covert masculinity and it explores the conflicts and complexities in the relationships that exist between men when they discover desire for each other.
After Brad Davis was diagnosed with AIDS, he could not find work in Hollywood. He went to Europe to work and Fassbinder cast him as Querelle. As Davis portrays the sailor, he breathes life into him. And “Querelle” is not per se a gay movie but rather a discourse on the nature of homosexuality. Querelle, the man, does not believe that two men can love one another but they can enjoy each other sexually. Querelle and his men show no affection, they just mate sexually.
What an intriguing film this is! It is so sexual while not being excessive and it is both amoral and decadent. It is explicit and delicate and outrageous. As direct as it is there is still much to infer in its portrayal of homosexuality. It ages like fine wine. Whenever I watch it I am amazed that it still rings true. Even with its flaws it represents the decadent mind. It will make your head spin and send you thinking. Is this really who we are?