August 4, 2010

Queer Review: Querelle

Querelle, the 1982 film from R.W. Fassbinder, is about the most surreal film I can recall seeing. It takes place in Brest, France, but there is no clear indication as to the time period. There are some props from the 1980s, including a video game I have strong memories of playing with as a kid and a tape recorder. The costumes, particularly the outfits worn by the sailor, point to an earlier time period, indicating that the filmmakers didn't want the movie to be set in a specific time frame. The novel takes place in the 1890s.

The plot revolves around Querelles', a sailor, murderer, and drug dealer, as he explores his sexual desires with other men. These include his "brother" Robert, the bartender Nono, and Gil (played by the same actor as Robert). Lieutenant Seblon, Querelles' superior, also displays desire and longing for him.

I'm not sure I'm up for a more detailed plot synopsis than that, much of it only made sense to me in the most abstract way. This is at its' most basic, a 1980s art film and is also pretentious as hell. The complicated plot moves at a glacial pace while the characters wax all poetically about The Human Condition. Querelle in particular is very articulate and has a vocabulary above and beyond what one might expect from a sailor from any time period. Although, to be fair, Lieutenant Seblon is the greatest offender when it comes to spouting way too much purple prose. To put it bluntly, people in this film talk like most of their lines were stolen from the sort of angst ridden poetry many people write when they are teenagers.

The imagery also contributes to the surreal nature of the film and is highly sexualized. There's a little nudity, but nearly every shot contains some sort of artistic rendering of male genitals or at least an obvious phallic symbol. Anyone who might doubt that Fassbinder was primarily attracted to men, might consider that there is only one significant female role in this movie, who is always stately dressed, while many of the male characters wear skimpy tight fitting outfits, emphasizing their bulges, muscular and otherwise.

There exist people and critics out there who might like this film, but I would not count myself among them. Instead, the whole thing grated on my sensibilities. I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone except those bold few who wish to experiment with alternative forms of cinematic storytelling.

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