MiniReview: "Querelle" (film)



Brad Davis and Hanno Pöschl enjoy a moment. (Man, those sideburns.)

What is it?

It’s a German-French co-production from 1982 directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Oddly, though, it’s in English.


What’s it about?

It’s an adaptation of a 1947 novel by Jean Genet, Querelle de Brest. It’s challenging to summarize. Imagine a highly stylized, very theatrical version of a French port town that is populated more or less exclusively by gay men, “heterosexual” men who seem to be in aggressive denial of their homosexuality, and one woman: Jeanne Moreau.


Jeez. Doesn’t sound like an ideal setting for an attractive woman like Jeanne.

No, so she sings sad, repetitive cabaret songs with lyrics by Oscar Wilde in the bar owned by her husband. When her lover's brother, who is a sailor, shows up in town, all hell breaks loose: murder, betrayal, intrigue . . . anal sex.


Jeanne's lover’s brother's gay?

Well, maybe. Bisexual, maybe. He’s a bit of a cipher, seemingly open to anything. But certainly a gay man’s dream. (He’s played by Brad Davis.) He’s amoral, I think it’s fair to say, in search of experience above all else.


This all sounds—odd? fantastic? I’m struggling to imagine it.

You really have to see it. It’s like a beautiful, lurid dream that you are horrified by but don’t want to pull yourself out of. It can seem like an arty gay porno film, but it’s much more art than porno. Still, it’s the polar opposite of a feel-good romantic gay film. This is a highly sexualized universe where it’s not clear that anyone really loves anyone else but everyone needs something from everyone else. It features one of the best gay kisses I’ve seen on film, and a strangely mechanical but lurid and unforgettable anal sex scene, with a parrot in the foreground.



Two. This is a classic of gay cinema. I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

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