Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Review #1,387

Director:  Alain Guiraudie
Cast:  Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d'Assumçao
Plot:  A cruising spot for men, tucked away on the shores of a lake.  Franck falls in love with Michel, an attractive, potent and lethally dangerous man.  Franck knows this but wants to live out his passion anyway.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won Queer Palm & Un Certain Regard - Directing Prize (Cannes)
Runtime:  100min
Rating:  Not rated (exceeds R21 guidelines)
International Sales:  Les Films du Losange

“Guys who sleep together, sure, but they've got a wife or girlfriend.  Guys who are gay—I mean, really gay—are pretty rare.”

One of the surprise hits at Cannes in 2013, winning the Queer Palm and causing a stir with its explicit homosexual content (this was also the same year with the controversial Blue is the Warmest Colour), Stranger by the Lake tells not so much a story, but depicts a tranquil natural setting that is not what it seems. 

A car rolls to a stop and a man disembarks.  He strolls through the woods towards the lake.  Along the way, clandestine activities of sex are observed.  On the beach, most are fully nude, embracing the warm sun and cool breeze as they lay down, semi-erect penises and all, on the sand. 

In a naturalistic style shot in a nonchalant manner, Stranger by the Lake brings gay cruising to the fore in a subtle, non-voyeuristic way.  It weaves a tapestry of men looking for sex, romance or companionship.  Many are strangers, and their flings don’t last.  But this place by the lake continues to attract them—it is their last refuge from a non-approving society. 

Guiraudie's film doesn’t quite go deep into its subject matter, but through its minimal plotting, a loose narrative involving a mysterious case of drowning, privy only to the murderer and a witness, unfolds with the audience having extra-filmic knowledge of the incident.  This creates tension when an investigator appears. 

Much of Stranger by the Lake operates as an inquiry into the nature of Man's feelings of lust and fear.  Can we desire someone whom we don’t know fully?  Or should we be afraid?  This dialectical tension between two primal emotions certainly marks the film out as a clear-eyed piece on the confusion faced by Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps in his first lead role in a feature film), who is torn between loving and wanting to love. 

Very much routine in structure, Stranger by the Lake has that aforementioned recurring motif of a car rolling to a stop in a clearing, suggesting a new day for the ‘locals’, in pursuit of another meaningless rendezvous.  It is also a very conversational film.  There is small talk that don’t mean anything, frank soliciting of sex, and deep dialogue on lonely existences.  Even the drowning incident appears to not have affected anyone.  After a couple of days, everyone is back to enjoy themselves.

Guiraudie’s work builds up to an unforgettable finale and haunting last shot, invoking elements of the psychological thriller.  By then, all sense of clarity is thrown out of the window, as we immerse ourselves in a stretched moment where it is not so much about the survival of the fittest, but the survival of the surest.  But sure of what?  Indispensable love or disposable lust? 

Verdict:  Its tranquil setting hides carnal desires and dark actions in this naturalistic outdoor drama about gay cruising.  


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