I don't think I quite understood what "Querelle" was about but the good aspect of it is that you at each view you get new things, and it grows on you. Far from being a masterpiece like "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" or "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant", but this is a very good project directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, his last and the one he got some of the heaviest criticism of his career. In a way, the most tragical of all of his works after being forced to cut part of it to get a release in America, probably the first time he ever had to back down and cut something he directed.
Based on author Jean Genet's 1947 novel Querelle de Brest, the movie revolves about Querelle, an Belgian sailor (Brad Davis) who plays with danger with his criminal affairs selling opium and his involvement with male and female, using of his good looks to get what he wants. To him (and to everyone around him) everything's a game in which losing sometimes can be useful (the dice game where he deliberately loses in order to have sex with Nuno, played by Gunther Kauffman). Querelle's a man with many love affairs and relations, center of attention of his own brother (Hanno Pöschl), and their strange "brotherhood", love/hate kind of thing; Nuno, his wife (Jeanne Moreau) owner of a decadent bar where most of the film takes place, and he's treasured from distance by his captain (Franco Nero). The other half of the film explores what can be called of real love between Querelle and a murderer (who is played by the same actor who plays the brother).
The movie is very open when it comes to presenting Querelle's involvements with both genders, specially his sexual scenes with another men, very bold at the time. If the story gets too much on a second plan, since the ideas are somewhat vague, foggy, the high point of enjoyment of the film is seeing Querelle getting well with his mates. For the most part, the movie isn't so exciting and is very confusing with its imposition of ideas one on top of another. What's the story in deeper terms? A man discovering his sexuality, trying new things or he's trying to find real love? Is he testing his moves as a player or he's just a man trying to survive using of his talents? Fassbinder intrigues us more with the whole concept of man being a product of his environment, adapting to his (and others) needs and what he makes here (don't know if the same happen in the book) is a strange fantasy world where everyone is bisexual or have more inclination towards another man, enjoying endless sunsets created on fake sets, surrounded by large columns resembling phallic elements. The script is more like a literary work than a cinematic experience, with several cards expressing Querelle's inner thoughts or the captain's romantic narration watching the love of his life, working all sweaty.
Rainer had his reasons and perhaps we'll never know what motivated him making this film in the way he did, but the artist is deeply immersed in this work, putting elements of his life, his love and all (including a dedication to El-Hedi Ben Salem, one of his partners, who died that year). A little bit butchered, panned by critics and part of the public, a distressing experience to the director who wasn't much in his best moment in life but with career on the top, but sadly he died and this was his last film. Not much of a great swan song but very admirable in several ways. The risk taken by Brad Davis was incredible and unfortunately he paid the price for it, barely appearing on well-known films or great projects. But what a performance! He's really good, very desirable and makes the character be what he needs to be. How many times you've seen a film where it is sold to us someone who is so beautiful and attracts everything and everyone but when you look at, it doesn't cause such effect? Davis was all that.
Here's a tale about immorality, manipulation, the right of the strongest to conquer anything, ultimately about the individuals who kill the things he love. Men, essentially. 7/10