Querelle: Erogenous Zones

<em>Querelle: </em>Erogenous Zones

The final film of a great director always bears an outsize burden, inviting scrutiny of how it relates to the career it completes. Did the filmmaker achieve a summational masterwork or deliver a misfire? Did the movie herald a bold new direction or merely rehearse the familiar? The passage of time encourages this kind of retrospective evaluation, as distance further clarifies an oeuvre’s concerns and contours, its propositions and pleasures. Filmographies, however, can be mercurial things, refusing to snap into focus when the last piece of the puzzle is set in place, resisting a consensus of closure.

Querelle (1982), the final film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, feels at once inevitable and unprecedented. It is a movie the director was born to make, but one delivered in the most curious of manners. If there is much in Fassbinder’s famously prolific career that anticipates his swan song, Querelle is nevertheless startlingly odd. Radically nonnormative in both form and content, it is a postmodern melodrama grounded by a sweaty, seething, meaty eroticism—a confrontational sexuality that remains bracing. In contrast to today’s cinematic landscape, where queer representation is largely a matter of respectability politics and sex scenes are subject to prudish pushback, Querelle is a movie that fucks.

Fassbinder embraced provocation from the start. Emerging from the Munich experimental-theater scene of the 1960s, he developed a filmmaking strategy that combined two modes aimed 
at estrangement: a deadpan approach to acting indebted to Bertolt Brecht, and a formal boldness inspired by the French New Wave, notably the shallow-space construction and reflexive camera work of Jean-Luc Godard. Fassbinder’s debut feature, Love Is Colder Than Death (1969), proposes a gangster film whose meager plot is subsumed by a prevailing atmosphere of lassitude in shabby, blindingly lit interiors, a mood that intermittently gives way to bursts of violence and novel visual flourishes. These mannerisms had already found their groove by Katzelmacher (also 1969), a movie that sharpened Fassbinder’s eye for aestheticized alienation and introduced one of his perennial figures: the outsider whose class or cultural status disrupts the prevailing social order.

You have no items in your shopping cart