The plot centers on the handsome Belgian sailor Georges Querelle, who is also a thief and murderer. When his ship, Le Vengeur, arrives in Brest, he visits the Feria, a bar and brothel for sailors run by the madame Lysiane, whose lover, Robert, is Querelle's brother. Querelle has a love/hate relationship with his brother; when they meet at La Feria, they embrace, but also punch one another slowly and repeatedly in the belly. Lysiane's husband Nono tends bar and manages La Feria's underhanded affairs with the assistance of his friend, the corrupt police captain Mario.
Querelle makes a deal to sell opium to Nono, and murders his accomplice Vic. After delivering the drugs, Querelle announces that he wants to sleep with Lysiane. He knows that this means he will have to throw dice with Nono, who, as Lysiane's husband, has the privilege of playing a game of chance with all of her prospective lovers. If Nono loses, the suitor is allowed to proceed with his affair. If the suitor loses, however, he must submit to anal sex with Nono first. "That way, I can say my wife only sleeps with assholes, " Nono says. Querelle deliberately loses the game, allowing himself to be sodomized by Nono. When Nono gloats about Querelle's "loss" to Robert, who won his dice game, the brothers end up in a violent fight. Later, Querelle becomes Lysiane's lover, and also has sex with Mario.
Luckily for Querelle, a construction worker called Gil murders his coworker Theo, who had been harassing and sexually assaulting him. Gil is also considered to be the murderer of Vic. Gil hides from the police in an abandoned prison, and Roger, who is in love with Gil, establishes contact between Querelle and Gil in the hopes that Querelle can help Gil flee. Querelle falls in love with Gil, who closely resembles his brother. Gil returns his affections, but Querelle betrays Gil by tipping off the police. Querelle had cleverly arranged it so that his murder of Vic is also blamed on Gil.
In parallel there is a plot line concerning Querelle's superior, Lieutenant Seblon, who is in love with Querelle, and constantly tries to prove his manliness to him. Seblon is aware that Querelle murdered Vic, but chooses to protect him. Near the end of the film, Seblon reveals his love and concern to a drunken Querelle, and they kiss and embrace before returning to Le Vengeur.Brad Davis as Querelle
Franco Nero as Lieutenant Seblon
Jeanne Moreau as Lysiane
Laurent Malet as Roger Bataille
Hanno Pöschl as Robert / Gil
Günther Kaufmann as Nono
Burkhard Driest as Mario
Roger Fritz as Marcellin
Dieter Schidor as Vic Rivette
Natja Brunckhorst as Paulette
Werner Asam as Worker
Axel Bauer as Worker
Neil Bell as Theo
Robert van Ackeren as Drunken legionnaire
Wolf Gremm as Drunken legionnaire
Frank Ripploh as Drunken legionnaire
According to Genet's biographer Edmund White, Querelle was originally going to be made by Werner Schroeter, with a scenario by Burkhard Driest, and produced by Dieter Schidor. However, Schidor could not find the money to finance a film by Schroeter, and therefore turned to other directors, including John Schlesinger and Sam Peckinpah, before finally settling on Fassbinder. Driest wrote a radically different script for Fassbinder, who then "took the linear narrative and jumbled it up". White quotes Schidor as saying "Fassbinder did something totally different, he took the words of Genet and tried to meditate on something other than the story. The story became totally unimportant for him. He also said publicly that the story was a sort of third-rate police story that wouldn't be worth making a movie about without putting a particular moral impact into it".
Schroeter had wanted to make a black and white film with amateur actors and location shots, but Fassbinder instead shot it with professional actors in a lurid, expressionist color, and on sets in the studio. Edmund White comments that the result is a film in which, "Everything is bathed in an artificial light and the architectural elements are all symbolic."Jeanne Moreau – "Each Man Kills the Things He Loves" (music by Peer Raben, lyrics from Oscar Wilde's poem "The Ballad of Reading Gaol")
"Young and Joyful Bandit" (Music by Peer Raben, lyrics by Jeanne Moreau)
Both songs were nominated to the 1984 Razzie Awards for "Worst Original Song".
Querelle sold more than 100,000 tickets in the first three weeks after its release in Paris, the first time that a film with a strong gay theme had achieved such success. However, the film received mixed reviews; critics who praised it called it a "noble experiment", while detractors called it incoherent and disjointed. Penny Ashbrook calls Querelle Fassbinder's "perfect epitaph: an intensely personal statement that is the most uncompromising portrayal of gay male sensibility to come from a major filmmaker." Edmund White considers Querelle the only film based on Genet's book that works, calling it "visually as artificial and menacing as Genet's prose." Genet himself, in discussion with Schidor, said that he had not seen the film, commenting, "You can't smoke at the movies."