Querelle (1982): Fassbinder’s Last Film, Adaptation of Genet’s Novel

Adapted from Querelle de Brest, French author Jean Genet’s 1947 controversial novel, Querelle is a German-French-English co-production that’s easier to judge by its bold intent than by its execution, which is flawed in many respects.

Marking Fassbinder’s final film as director, it was posthumously released four months after the director died of drug overdose, in June 1982.

The protagonist is a handsome Belgian sailor Georges Querelle, well played by American actor Brad Davis, who is a thief and murderer.

When his ship, Le Vengeur, arrives in Brest, he visits the Feria, a bar-brothel for sailors run by the Madame Lysiane, whose lover, Robert, is Querelle’s brother. Querelle has a love/hate relationship with his brother, but when they meet at La Feria, they embrace, but also punch one another slowly and repeatedly in the belly. Lysiane’s husband Nono tends bar and manages La Feria’s underhanded affairs with the assistance of his friend, the corrupt police captain Mario.

Querelle makes a deal to sell opium to Nono, and murders his accomplice Vic. After delivering the drugs, Querelle announces that he wants to sleep with Lysiane. He knows that this means he will have to throw dice with Nono, who has the privilege of playing a game of chance with all of her prospective lovers. If Nono loses, the suitor is allowed to proceed with his affair. If the suitor loses, however, he must submit to anal sex with Nono first, saying “That way, I can say my wife only sleeps with assholes.”

Querelle deliberately loses the game, allowing himself to be sodomizedd by Nono. When Nono gloats about Querelle’s “loss” to Robert, who won his dice game, the brothers end up in a violent fight. Later, Querelle becomes Lysiane’s lover, and also has sex with Mario.

Luckily for Querelle, a construction worker, Gil, murders his coworker Theo, who had been sexually harassing him. Gil is also considered to be the murderer of Vic. Gil hides from the police in an abandoned prison, and Roger, who is in love with Gil, establishes contact between Querelle and Gil hoping that Querelle can help Gil flee.

Querelle falls in love with Gil, who resembles his brother. Gil returns his affections, but Querelle betrays Gil by tipping off the police. He manipulates the facts so that Gil takes the blame for murdering Vic.

Querelle’s superior, Lieutenant Seblon, is in love with Querelle, and constantly tries to prove his manliness to him. Seblon is aware that Querelle murdered Vic, but chooses to protect him.

Later, Seblon reveals his love and concern to a drunken Querelle, and they embrace before returning to Le Vengeur.