A tranquil lakeside cruising spot attracts a gay men throughout the French summer. Most come for sun and swimming, while many come for sex. One man however, has something altogether more sinister on his mind. My review of Stranger By The Lake after the jump.
During the hot summer days, the men come to the lake. They lay on the hot stones, sunning their naked bodies, swim in the blue waters of the lake and engage in sexual acts in the surrounding forest. Every day during his summer break, Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) visits the lake where he engages in the activities mentioned above. Franck becomes friends with Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), a lonely man who has recently separated from his wife, who he enjoys conversing with. At the same time Franck becomes attracted to Michel (Christophe Paou), a good-looking man, who projects a certain level of arrogance and self-assurance. When late one night Franck witnesses Michel murdering a man, his attraction doesn’t decrease. There is something alluring about danger, and Franck can’t get Michel out of his head.
Stranger by the Lake is incredibly thrilling – the combination of illicit sexual encounters and murder is a potent cocktail. Franck’s attraction to Michel is crazy, but you can’t help but understand it. There is something universally appealing about a ‘bad boy’. We know things won’t end well, but that doesn’t mean the journey won’t be a hell of a lot of fun. It’s the same for Franck and Michel – While they’re having fun, there’s a prevalent discomfort that proves foreboding, that of course, things aren’t going to end well. It’s this tension that drives the later stages of the film, as sexual attraction and fear mix to create a wired situation.
The world created in Stranger by the Lake is both breathtakingly beautiful and suffocating. The lakeside is absolutely stunning and has been shot in a way that really showcases its beauty – the sparkling reflection of the sun on the lake, the soothing dusk and the striking moonlight all portray a pocket of paradise. In the film the lake is the only location we see, we never stray further than its refreshing waters or its nondescript car park. As the film goes on and the sense of uneasiness escalates, it is suffocating. It feels like we are trapped along with Franck, in this alluring but deceptively dangerous place that we cannot escape from.
While there is much to admire in the technical elements of this film, there are aspects of the story that let it down. The police investigation into the murder felt less like an investigation and more like an amateur sleuth enjoying an interesting stroll. I find it hard to believe that any investigation would be conducted in such a seemingly casual and small-scale way, particularly if there was a belief that it was a potential hate crime. I also find some of the characters motivations hard to comprehend, as aside from Michel and to an extent Henri, we know virtually nothing about the other men, some of whom seemed to be playing guys straight out of an 80s music video.
Stranger By The Lake inventively interweave sex and death yet never forget the mechanics of narrative. Often confronting and always captivating, this is a thrilling watch.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Alain Guiraudie
Writer(s): Alain Guiraudie
Starring: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumçao
Runtime: 97 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: October 17 2013