Querelle ★★★★

Each man kills the thing he loves.

So despite it having been around for like two months now, before today I had yet to watch anything from The Criterion Channel. Don't ask why, it's just one of those things that happened. Better late than never, both for that and breaking into the filmmaking of renowned queer filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Querelle is his final film, and its marketing leaned heavily into its controversial subject matter, the film being an adaptation of a book by a fellow queer artist, the French novelist Jean Genet. Despite one never being showed directly onscreen, I don't think I've ever seen a film more obsessed with cock. Querelle is a dreamlike descent into sexuality, shame, and violence, and how all three are often intertwined. When it ended, I had no idea how to rate it, and I'm not even confident now in my rating. But I think that means it's a great movie.

The film is violently beautiful. By that, I mean it borderline assaults your eyes with how gorgeous it all looks. Like how Only God Forgives is permanently bathed in grimy neon, Querelle is almost always covered in the light of a sunset. More than an evening certainly passes in the film, but regardless of any scene, the sun seems to be close to setting, but never does. It's a hell of an aesthetic, and it's amazing to see at every turn. Occasionally, a small shimmer of either purple or blue light will bring focus to the eyes or jaws of certain characters, and that too is stunning. Even if and when the story is polarizing, Querelle is a beauty. Purgatory never looked so enticing.

Though I don't mention him nearly enough, I can't think of too many actors I'm attracted to more than Franco Nero. It's legitimately frustrating how handsome he is. Despite playing a passive role in Querelle, at least compared to its lead, Nero commands as Seblon with little more than his eyes and occasional slow, meaningful voiceover monologues. As for the titular character, played by Brad Davis, it's an astonishing performance. I'd need a second viewing to fully piece it all together, but Georges Querelle seems to be more than just his character. His surroundings, and all of the characters around him, come off to me as manifestations of his muddled sexuality. The whole film flows like a dream, including the often flat line delivery and fake looking set pieces. Neither are a bad thing to me in the slightest. They lend to the experience, and it's one that doesn't want to sugarcoat the complications of homosexuality.

Through both dialogue and imagery, there are constant references to phalluses. (For God's sake, just look at that poster.) Querelle insists that he's "not a fairy." His early-on sexual encounter with Nono is referenced to with shame or morbid curiosity, involving language I won't repeat here. I don't think I can dare call Querelle a good person, but I don't think I'm supposed to see him as one. Even then, that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to empathize with him. I too wrestle with my feelings towards others, and I wish I knew the right ways I could communicate with them. By relying on visual storytelling above dialogue, though you won't find any shortage of philosophical spouting, Querelle stands tall as a unique, impactful, and even downright haunting exploration of sexuality. Akin to Mishima, this'll need a revisit down the line in order to fully grasp it all. Both might become 10/10 experiences later on, but their current ratings will have to suffice for now.

The thought of murder often evokes thoughts of the sea and of sailors. What naturally follows thoughts of the sea and murder is the thought of love or sexuality.


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