Plot Synopsis by Brian J. Dillard (allmovie.com)
A sailor learns to take, and give, it like a man in this surrealistic adaptation of writer and thief Jean Genet’s novel Querelle de Brest by avant-garde German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In a colorful brothel in the port of Brest, proprietor Nono (Gunther Kaufmann) is known for wagering with his customers. Win a throw of the dice, and they get to make love with his wife, Lysiane (Jeanne Moreau); lose, and they must take it from behind by Nono himself. One day, Lysiane reads the tarot for her lover, Robert (Hanno Poschl), and learns in the cards of his intense passion for his brother, Querelle (Brad Davis). Querelle himself soon arrives, and the brothers enact a bizarre greeting halfway between a hug and a wrestling match. Querelle, it seems, is looking for partners in a drug deal; Robert points him in the right direction. An argument about the merits of sex between men soon leads Querelle to murder his fellow smuggler, Vic (Dieter Schidor). Back at the whorehouse, Querelle loses on purpose to Nono and finds he has a taste for passive gay sex. Meanwhile, fellow sailor Gil, who looks exactly like Querelle’s brother (and is played by the same actor), murders one of his compatriots after the brute publicly impugns his manhood. Wanted by the police for both his own crime and Querelle’s, Gil goes on the lam. Querelle soon crashes his hideout, and an intense bond develops between the two murderers — a friendship that will lead Querelle to the greatest love, and the greatest treachery, of his life. Director Fassbinder was in the process of editing Querelle when he died of a drug overdose in June 1982. Gunther Kaufmann, who plays Nono, was Fassbinder’s ex-lover; the film is dedicated to another former lover, El Hedi Ben Salem, the news of whose suicide had just reached the director. Critically derided even by many of Fassbinder’s admirers, Querelle earned a Golden Raspberry award for Worst “Original” Song for “Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves,” an Oscar Wilde poem set to music by Peer Raben and sung repeatedly by Jeanne Moreau. Moreau had previously starred in Mademoiselle, a Tony Richardson effort co-scripted by Genet. Look for Frank Ripploh, another pioneering German director, in a cameo.