Querelle

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Synopsis

Conjured from the unholy meeting of two iconoclastic queer artists, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film audaciously raises Jean Genet’s controversial novel to the level of myth. In an expressionistic soundstage vision of a French seaport town—bathed in fiery reds and complete with phallic spires—a strapping sailor and unrepentant criminal (Brad Davis) comes ashore to arouse passion, rivalry, and violence among the libidinal denizens drawn into his orbit. Enacted with dreamlike stylization by a cast of international stars, including Jeanne Moreau and Franco Nero, Querelle finds Fassbinder pushing his taboo-shattering depiction of gay desire to delirious extremes.

Picture 7/10

The Criterion Collection presents Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film, Querelle, on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a high-definition scan taken from a 35m interpositive.

So, I’ll lead off by stating Criterion is “working with what they got” and has managed to pull off a mildly impressive feat, considering how bad this could have turned out. That may give the impression that this is still a disaster in some sense, and it certainly isn’t, but it’s not great. Some of that comes down to the stylistic choices Fassbinder made regarding the film's visuals, but most of it is easily because this master looks like it was created in the DVD era.

I’m happy to report that Criterion’s encoding is relatively solid and probably one of their better high-def ones recently. Though the base master has its own set of issues (that I will get into), Criterion doesn’t introduce any further ones that I could spot, and looking closely at screen captures, it’s about as clean as can be expected.

And that’s good because if the noise and macroblocking that has been obvious in a few of Criterion’s recent Blu-rays had been present here, this whole thing would have been absolutely dire. The main issue comes down to the fact that the base master is weak, and other than the film having a mixed reputation (which appears to be putting it mildly), I can see why Criterion wasn’t rushing to get this out based on what I see. At its best, it looks fine, with decent detail levels and an okay rendering of what grain is there, but it still only looks a bit better than most early-era Blu-ray presentations, with a heavy video quality still present.

Though far from ideal, it’s acceptable, and this holds for most of the film. However, some sections still fall short, and at its worst, it’s a fuzzy, noisy mess. As I mentioned, the film is heavily stylized, and one of the stylistic choices employed is filtered shots, mainly when they feature Jeanne Moreau. Unfortunately, this is when the base master’s weaknesses show, with buzzing and noise being more prominent, especially in the blacks. And though it would be easy to blame Criterion for this, looking at it closer, it seems like this is all baked into the master, with Criterion trying to manage it as best they can without resorting to heavy filtering.

As to the presentation’s positives, the colors look great. The film has a golden hue throughout most of it, but that can be broken up with blue or red lighting, and the digital presentation delivers those sequences without issue. Black levels are okay, but shadows and depth are limited, thanks to the narrow range available. Criterion has also cleaned up damage extensively, and I didn’t note any severe flaws remaining.

All in all, this is probably about as good as it’s going to get. The film needs a 4K restoration, but as that hasn’t happened yet (as it has with several of the director’s other films), I assume it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Audio 6/10

Criterion presents the film’s audio in lossless PCM monaural. Range is limited, and I suspect some filtering has been applied, but it’s all otherwise fine. Dialogue is easy to hear, and there are no pops or drops.

Extras 6/10

This being Fassbinder’s final film, I would have expected a more significant collection of features, but that doesn’t prove true. Thankfully, what they do include is quite good, with the standout being the 1982 60-minute documentary Rainer Werner Fassbinder—Last Works, directed by Wolf Gremm. It documents two of the last films Fassbinder worked on: Querelle and Kamikaze ’89, the latter directed by Gremm and starring Fassbinder. Jumping back and forth between the two projects, we see Fassbinder as a director and actor and how he works in each environment. Outside of Gremm narrating a few moments, the documentary takes a “fly-on-the-wall” approach and looks onto the proceedings. I can’t say I found the documentary particularly insightful, but watching Fassbinder onset alongside behind-the-scenes footage is a bit of fun. Also, I’m unfamiliar with Kamikaze ’89, but it looks like… something.

Criterion also includes the film’s French trailer and a new interview featuring critic Michael Koresky. He sits to talk for 23 minutes about the development of Fassbinder’s style, using five essential films to show how it morphed: Love is Colder Than Death, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, In a Year with 13 Moons, and then of course Querelle. Koresky looks at each “period” and explains how things shift, building up to the full artificiality found in Querelle, moving from location shooting to closed spaces with von Kant to the influences of Hollywood and Sirk with Ali, and so on. Throughout, he points out how staging and performance styles change, with things becoming more theatrical until finally reaching Querelle, where audiences “might as well be watching a stage production.” I liked his analysis, and it’s nicely edited with clips from the films to highlight some of Koresky’s examples.

I wish there were something else more specific to the film, which has clearly split audiences through the years. Nathan Lee offers insights in the included essay, noting that the movie is a “weird object one confronts at a distance.” Ultimately, there isn’t much, but I liked what was included.

Closing

The film probably deserves better, especially when it comes to the presentation, but Criterion at least includes a couple of good supplements.

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Year: 1982
Time: 108 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1221
Licensor: Gaumont
Release Date: June 11 2024
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
2.35:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 New interview with critic Michael Koresky on director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's aesthetics and visual storytelling   Rainer Werner Fassbinder—Last Works, a 1982 documentary by Wolf Gremm   Trailer   An essay by critic Nathan Lee