mon 09/12/2019

Stranger by the Lake | reviews, news & interviews

Stranger by the Lake

Stranger by the Lake

Sex and death side-by-side in captivating French gay drama

Deceptive tranquillity: "the lake itself is a strong presence in the film, almost a character"

The lakeside beach that is the only scene of action in Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake is a concentrated crucible of desires. The sense of languid summer and the limpid beauty of the lake itself, beautifully and compellingly caught throughout in Claire Mathon’s widescreen cinematography, are deceptive: this gay cruising area is a place of urgent, largely silent action, and deadly undercurrents, where sexual fascination can become potentially fatal.

The film opens with the arrival of the goodlooking Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), who parks his car, strips down, and goes into the water. From there he surveys the men on the beach – Stranger... is very much a film about visual surveying, about gaze (plenty of room for psychoanalytical readings here). To one side, he sees Henri (Patrick d’Assumcao), a middle-aged, bulky and somehow uncomfortable figure, who sits apart from the other male, largely naked sunbathers. Henri doesn’t exactly grab the attention, though Franck will approach him and engage in conversation through the film, the closest to “normal” communication that we come.

Guiraudie has created a striking, oblique film, which stays in the memory long after viewing

Instead his attention is caught by the muscular Michel (Christophe Paou), with whom he is soon having sex in the woods behind the shore. The moustached Michel is the centre of fascination, throwing his sexual attentions around freely, and refusing any engagement beyond the physical with Franck. He dismisses the latter’s suggestions that the two might have a drink together somewhere (off screen) later: sex and intimacy are kept in very separate boxes. But it’s when Franck witnesses Michel drowning one of his partners far out in the water that the real hit of desire kicks in – a fatal attraction (hints of Jean Genet, perhaps) which will later bring the police into this far from innocent landscape. (Pictured, below right: Christophe Paou as Michel, left, with Pierre Deladonchamps as Franck).

Guiraudie creates a sense of psychological tension that’s rightly drawn comparisons to Hitchcock, though he leavens it with moments of comedy involving the supporting cast, most notably a character who derives his sexual pleasures from watching others engaged in theirs (the voyeur – gaze, again). The sexual contact, which we expect might involve connection, in fact emphasizes the sense of separation.

With its sense of obsessions Stranger… is undeniably unsettling, and not just for the explicit gay sex that we see on screen (achieved with body doubles); it also raises a question in the back of our minds as to whether the male nudity the director pushes at his viewers is any stranger than, or different from, the female nudity we’re more accustomed to in cinema. There’s a sense of an enclosed world, with the lake itself a strong presence in the film, almost a character, and we practically lose track of the passing of days, as the rituals of attraction repeat themselves. Guiraudie has created a striking, oblique film, which won him the best director prize in the "Un Certain Regard" section at the Cannes festival last year, as well as that event's Queer Palm: it stays in the memory long after viewing, rather like the dying summer light over the lake itself.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Stranger by the Lake

 

This gay cruising area is a place of urgent, largely silent action, and deadly undercurrents

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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