Available on DVD from Mon 10 Mar
Rainer Werner Fassbinder / West Germany / 1982 / 108 mins
It’s typical to view a director’s last film as a summation and conclusion of the themes running through their career. Certainly, it’s possible to do that with Querelle, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s posthumous 1982 release. An adaptation of Jean Genet‘s novel, Querelle follows the titular anti-hero (Brad Davis) as he becomes embroiled in the criminal underworld and gay lust of a coastal town. The plot however, is pretty garbled, Fassbinder instead exploring his characteristic themes of homosexuality, machismo and vice in a more elliptical fashion. The film could be described as valedictory, save for the fact that the director’s drug overdose was accidental, and that he died prepping his next film.
Yet it’s also the fact that Querelle is undeniably elegiac. Fassbinder creates a homoerotic fantasy world, bathed in the glow of a painted sun and studded by ornate stone penises. The characters are gay archetypes- sailors, leather bikers and hard-hat wearing labourers. If this suggests art house by way of the Village People, the comparison is not far off. Homosexuality is here untroubled by the looming nightmare of AIDS, and Querelle’s body is the object of sexual desire for every single character. This is Fassbinder’s sort of utopia- perhaps it’s elegiac because he knew it could only be realised in a studio.
While Querelle was not an intended capstone on Fassbinder’s career, it works perfectly as that anyway. This is where his mingling of high and low art reaches a sublime. Moments of unbelievable silliness become poignant simply because the film is so intensely personal, overwhelming the adapted text, transcending mere autobiography and diving straight for the fevered depths of Fassbinder’s inner world. Querelle may be an accident, but because it was an accident it is a triumph- as perfect a summation and conclusion as any director could hope for.