From French director Alain Guiraudie comes Stranger By The Lake, or L’inconnu Du Lac, a sexual thriller that garnered much praise at last years Cannes Film Festival, winning Guiraudie the award for Best Director in the Un Certain Regard section as well as the Queer Palm title. The film follows Franck, a young gay man who makes daily visits to a secluded lake side spot that has become known for naturism and cruising, attracting a predominantly male homosexual crowd. In the course of his visits Franck makes two main friends, firstly Henri, a peculiar older gentleman who seems not to be interested in the sexual side of the location but simply enjoys conversation, and secondly Michel, a smouldering, muscular man with him he begins a passionate and speedy love affair. Tensions begin to rise when the body of a male swimmer is found in the lake, and romance soon turns to danger and trust to distrust as suspicions fly from one regular to the next.
Amidst all of the press attention for Blue Is The Warmest Colour and its extended depictions of lesbian sex, Stranger By The Lake seems to have passed by without so much as a whisper, an interesting observation given that the sex scenes in the film are much more explicit and frequent than those in Abdellatif Kechiche’s acclaimed picture. Though more recurrent and more gratuitous, one feels that the sex in Stranger By The Lake is more necessary and more realistic in context. The few sexual encounters that Franck has before his meeting with Michel provide an insight in to his character, for example, the fact that he is not concerned with using protection with the strangers he beds connotes a reckless, almost dangerous side to his personality, something that it is vital for the audience to know in order to understand certain actions later on in the narrative. The very setting of the film, an area prominent in cruising, is rife with sexual energy and tension, and it would be more questionable in my mind to portray such a place without a considerable amount of physical activity taking place. Aside from the scenes of a sexual nature, the film is a display of the lengths of denial and danger one will sink to in order to gain gratification from a situation that they know is neither safe nor rewarding. The strong attraction that Franck feels for Michel begins to cloud his judgement, and this is a concept that transcends homosexuality and becomes recognisable to all facets of orientation. The turning of an eye or the ignoring of a sign in attempts to prolong a perfect moment that you know, deep down is long gone, is painful and somewhat inevitable experience, and Stranger By The Lake tells an exaggerated tale of the dangers of making such decisions.
The film has only a handful of speaking parts, the two leads Pierre de Ladonchamps as Franck and Christophe Paou as Michel doing an excellent job of filling the screen with copious amounts of chemistry and strong acting both individually and as a pair. Whilst de Ladonchamps is certainly the protaganist of the piece, it is Paou that caught my attention. Admittedly this may be partly down to the fact that he happens to be one of the most beautiful men I have ever laid eyes upon, but aside from aesthetic advantage, the character of Michel is a much more complex, intriguing and hypnotic presence, a clear sign that Paou has hit the brief as the audience unwillingly fall in love with the dangerous Michel just as much as Franck does. Playing Franck’s platonic lakeside companion Henri is Patrick D’Assumçao, and together the two actors create an unconventional yet rather heartwarming friendship that gives the audience a break from the stifling sexual energy of Michel’s presence as well as the cohort of other, mostly nude, bathers. The two men seem to genuinely care for one another and their many missed opportunities for real social interaction, turned down offers of dinner, turned down offers of drinks, become a symbol of the tunnel vision that Franck comes to experience with regards to his obsession with Michel, one that ultimately leads to tragedy.
Overall, though I fear its homosexual themes will unfortunately force it in to a cinematic niche, Stranger By The Lake is a slow burning but rewarding thriller containing thematic content that is applicable to a much wider viewership than I feel it will get. Fatal attraction, betrayal, mistrust, all elements within the film’s narrative that are to be found in any number of more mainstream picture this year, but I would wager that few will address them better. With the coinciding releases of this and Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, this week in cinema has certainly been one of the most sex filled in recent memory. No need to worry though, Tinker Bell And The Pirate Fairy is there to balance it all out.