This is a film I had been meaning to see for a long time and wish I had not left it so long. It stars sultry, hunk, Brad Davis (`Midnight Express' and `Chariots of Fire') as the title character Querelle. He is a gay, sailor who arrives in the French port of Brest to do a drug deal whilst opportunistically being on shore and some random violence and sex if he feels like it and oh yes he does. He is also the object of unrequited love of the ships Lieutenant Seblon (Franco Nero who's had an amazing career just made `Django Unchained' and was in the original `Django' in 1966) who lustily watches his underling whilst recording his feelings on a Dictaphone.
All the action in the town seems to centre on a bar/brothel where the `host' Nono throws dice to see who gets to `have' whom. If he wins you are basically going to be on the receiving end of some pretty big man `bear' type action. Also Nono's wife is having an open liaison with Querelles' brother and on meeting it is clear they have a love / hate relationship which seems to centre around some sort of physical attraction. Things happen at a poetic pace that is almost surreal at times and this is all absolutely intentional as it builds to an ending that is written big, from the start, that will be tragic.
This is an adaptation of Jean Genet's book and as such was always going to be difficult to adapt, but if anyone could then it has to be the director here Rainer Werner Fassbinder(`The Marriage of Maria Braun' and `The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant'). This was Fassbinder's last film in what had been both a productive and illuminating career; sadly he died of an overdose of cocaine at the age of 37. He wanted to capture the mood of the book and so deliberately filmed everything on a studio set, at some cost, so as to be able to have the surreal orange sky and clearly painted sun in some of the more iconic shots.
Nearly every scene has some homo erotic element to it. The sailors all walk around looking like refugees from a Jean Paul-Gautier advert and quotes from the book are interspersed through-out to help uncover the character which is too complex to be adequately conveyed in the normal restrictions of a two dimensional film. The language is deliberately provocative and infused with sexual meaning as in the real intention of the `f' word. There is also tension through-out along with stylised violence and the use of fetish clothing to make the film feel even more unreal and removed from the ordinary. Even the cop is in a leather biker outfit; wish it was like that in real life, the arrest rates might go up a bit though. And the lighting is stupendous, this has been lit like a noir classic in places, couple this with the lingering sultry shots of Querelle looking both languorous and sexy just by standing there and the effect is one that is both intriguing and almost beguiling.
I watched this almost totally rapt at what it was supposed to be and what I thought a film should be but this was not complying to the norms. So I took a while to think of what I really had seen and it is so obvious that a director like this comes along so rarely that when you get the chance to see his work you realise that this is indeed something special.