Culture: Film

Beige Recommends: Querelle At The ICA

Querelle, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a German film director, screenwriter, and actor. Fassbinder’s final film, based on Jean Genet’s Querelle de Brest (1947), stars Brad Davis as a sailor caught in the throes of love and hate in this little-seen queer cinema classic. Released shortly after Fassbinder’s death, Querelle‘s visually stunning cinematography, costumes and set design stand the test of time three decades on.

Steven Cairns is Associate Curator of Artists’ Film and Moving Image at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. Cairns had the following the say about Querelle ahead of the screening which will be taking place at the ICA next week.

What is the story of Querelle?
Brad Davis, famous for his leading role in the 1978 film Midnight Express, stars as sailor Georges Querelle, in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s queer-cinema classic. Qurelle’s ship, the Vengeur lands in the town of Brest and this is where the story is set, in and around the bar and brother Feria. In just over 100 minutes his life and lovers are intertwined in a complex network of seduction, envy, murder and sex. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s all in there!

How close is the story to Genet’s book?
Fassbinder stays true to much of Genet’s book Querelle of Brest, which was first published anonymously in 1947. Querelle the film offers what any book can’t – the visuals. The highly stylised outfits and set pieces, complete with phallic symbolism, give the film the feel of a campy theatrical production.

Querelle, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982

Why is the film so rarely shown and why have you decided to screen it now?
Querelle was Fassbinder’s final film, and is very different from the films he is widely celebrated for. The President of the Jury of the 1982 Venice Film Festival famously withdrew from the competition, as Querelle was not among the prize winners. The film was a modest success but not universally liked, but in my opinion was way ahead of its time.

What was Fassbinder’s approach to making the film? What themes does he bring out?
Fassbinder explores sexuality and masculinity from multiple angles in the film – sexual tension and desire are the glue in the films complex narrative. Austrian cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger’s unique style stays true to Fassbinder’s vision and what you get are beautiful and tightly composed scenes, shown at ICA in their true theatrical aspect ratio.

The film was released posthumously, after Fassbinder’s death. Tell me about this.
Fassbinder died of a drug overdose in his apartment in 1982. He had just completed Querelle, which was released a few months after his death.

Querelle plays at the ICA on Thursday 2 May at 8.30pm.

Words: Alex Hopkins

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