Sunday, February 9, 2014


Alain Guiraudie's "Stranger by the Lake" is a strange and unique creation, one that is at once quietly humorous and observant and then dark, disturbing and menacing. In the world of this summertime cruising spot for men in France, an isolated shore of lakeside beach surrounded by woods, there are only three locations: the parking lot, the beach, the woods. The film is both numbing and fascinating in its repetition of these locales, never leaving this spot for its full 100 minutes; but such a decision works to mirror the daily, ritualistic world of cruising it portrays. And as the film's climax comes into focus, it takes the location's calm and tranquil surface and unearths a sinister air. The rustle of the trees and roll of the waves turn ominous.

Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) visits the spot every day, thwarting off most of the occupants' carnal glances and passes. He spends most of his time sitting on the shore with a larger man, Henri (Patrick d'Assumçao), with whom he strikes up a friendship. The man is outwardly lonely but has no intentions of cruising when he visits this beach, instead addressing the act's frivolity but also not believing any man is completely gay. Franck soon becomes transfixed on a Burt Reynolds-looking man, Michel (Christophe Paou), who appears to have a boyfriend. Late one night, however, Franck witnesses Michel drown the supposed boyfriend.

Viewing the act from afar in a drawn out sequence, it echoes the voyeuristic styles of Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and Michael Haneke's "Caché." After seeing the man commit murder, instead of staying away, Franck becomes more attached, and they begin an affair together, meeting up to have sex every day. In such, Guiraudie builds dread with the precision of a horror movie, linking sexual desire and death in intriguing ways. It marks the film as an art house exotic thriller. Yet the explicit sex and unrelenting frontal male nudity of "Stranger by the Lake" goes beyond mere provocation.

There are conversations on intimacy and relationships vs. pure sex that happen, which resonate beyond the wooded secrecy of a hidden cruising spot. While physical cruising may be less prevalent and inching its way into an obsolete gay culture, there's the ever-present digital cruising: Grindr. After a mousy, slinky inspector (Jérôme Chappatte) starts poking his nose around the crime scene, things take a turn. Guiraudie ends his film on a sinister note of solidarity, perhaps encapsulating the loneliness that's behind the act of cruising all along.

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