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Stranger By the Lake (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Stranger By the Lake


Starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d'Assumçao, Francois Labarthe, Jérôme Chappatte, Mathieu Vervisch, Gilbert Traina, Emmanuel Daumas, Sébastien Badachaoui and Gilles Guérin.

Screenplay by Alain Guiraudie.

Directed by Alain Guiraudie.

Distributed by Strand Releasing. 97 minutes. Not Rated.

A man goes to a lake on a nearly daily basis.  He sees someone he is attracted to, and watches from afar as his crush is hanging out and having fun with someone else.  Late one night he watches the two get into a fight in the middle of the lake.  His crush comes out, but he loses track of the other guy.  Did the guy really disappear underwater and not resurface?  Soon afterwards, the crush starts talking to the him.  Even though the guy is concerned that he may have witnessed a murder, he can’t help but be drawn into a passionate affair.  Then when the original lover’s body is found drowned, suspicion falls upon the man.  But he can’t tell what he has seen without incriminating the person for whom he has fallen.

It sounds like a pretty standard thriller formula.  The only thing different is that all of these people are men and the setting is a popular French cruising spot, where guys sunbathe and then go into the reeds for gay hookups.

Stranger By the Lake is far from being a standard thriller. 

And warning for the squeamish or the homophobic: some of the homosexual sex acts on screen are rather explicit, including near-constant male nudity, some shots of fellatio and full-on ejaculation.  Writer/director Alain Guiraudie is trying to portray this particular world, and he is not going to shy away from the details of the place.  Either take it as it really is, or stay out.

Then again, most people who had those concerns would probably never go to a movie in which there is a painting of two men kissing passionately on the movie poster.  So forewarned is forearmed.

The thing is, this film is actually not so much about homosexuality.  As illustrated above, these lovers could have been a man and a woman and the basic story line would have worked just about the same.  Yet it would have been a less interesting film because it is not nearly as unique a setting.  The homosexual subculture almost works as a seasoning in the meal, but it is not the full dish.

Not by a long shot.

Stranger By the Lake takes place completely in the area – every single scene takes place either at the lake, the beach, the nearby woods or the parking area.  The era is also indeterminate – I’d guess the 80s or 90s, but that is a complete conjecture due to clothes, hair and lack of cell phones.  Also, while not all of these guys are overly concerned about it, they do know about condoms and AIDS.

This timelessness is also undoubtedly planned.  This could be anytime and any place (the lake and area are also quite indeterminate, someplace somewhere in France).  And even anyone.  Part of the point of the place is that names and backgrounds are vague, almost no one knows another as much as a person’s last name, much less how to contact them.

Which of course gets in the way when an investigation is going on.  A local inspector (Jérôme Chappatte) is shocked to find how little everyone knows about each other, and how a person can just disappear, his towel and sneakers and car sitting where they were left for days, and no one would even notice he is gone.

Pierre Deladonchamps plays Franck, a generically attractive gay man in his early 30s who – unlike most of the guys there – is visiting the lake as much for the swimming and natural rustic charm as the idea of meeting other men.  He quickly platonically befriends Henri (Patrick d'Assumçao), a guy who sits by himself on a hill and just watches nature. 

Henri is a husky 40-some recent divorcé, who is even less into cruising than Franck.  In fact, he seems burned out on sex completely, and any bi tendencies that he may have once had seem mostly behind him.  In fact, he eventually admits being interested in Franck, but not so much in a sexual way as just someone else to go to a bar with and hang out with.  Franck feels similarly about Henri, he actually enjoys the older man's company greatly, but friendship takes second place to passion in Franck's life.

The passion comes in the form of Michel (Christophe Paou), the local hunk with short shorts, ripped abs and a porn star mustache who is the center of much of the attention at the lake.  The first time Franck tries to meet Michel, he is cock-blocked by Michel's latest jealous, effeminate fling.  Hours later as the sun is going down, Franck notices the two having their fight in the lake. 

The next day the fling is gone and Michel is making his move on Franck.  But did Franck really see what he thought he saw?  What's a guy to do?  Intellectually it's an easy answer, but emotionally not as much.  Particularly since it turns out that Michel is a mind-blowing lover.  But then again, is the passion due to the partner or the danger of the situation?

Stranger By the Lake doesn't offer any simple answers or make any judgments.  It just posits a human dilemma and places it in a very specific setting.  However, for all the movie's flirtation with societal taboos, the movie works mostly because it is a very well-constructed and complex psychological thriller.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: March 14, 2014.

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