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Stranger By The Lake – Review

February 23, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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In a world where loneliness and desire often push us to break our boundaries and expose ourselves to risks we weren’t even aware we were willing to take in order to feel alive, Stranger By The Lake (L’inconnu du lac) couldn’t be a more fitting and relevant piece of filmmaking. If there’s a movie deserving to be deemed original this year, this French homoerotic Hitchockian thriller most certainly is. Looking and feeling like it was shot in the 70s, this story of sex, murder, passion and love brings about a chilling atmosphere of repressed tension that will stay with you throughout its running time and long after the proverbial fade out. Writer/director Alain Guiraudie has crafted a unique cinematic experience that’s odd and fascinating at the same time with its bucolic setting, an increasing sense of danger, a vivid erotic vibe and a witty humour that provides a few well-needed breaks of lightness from the darker tones but also an interesting and thoughtful reflection on the film’s themes.

Set in Southern France, this enigmatic and sensuous story takes place entirely at a local cruising spot by a lake. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is an attractive young man who visits the popular area every day with pretty much the same agenda of every other man who spends the days there naked, either swimming or sunbathing. One day he befriends lonely divorcé Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), a chubby man who always sits by himself awkwardly, never losing his shirt and just staring at everyone without ever making an approaching move. Franck and Henri soon bond on gossiping about the other regulars at the lake and they also strike up a deeper conversation about relationships. Soon enough though, Franck notices Michel (Christophe Paou), a mysterious and attractive new entry at the lake. At first Michel seems busy “entertaining” someone else but then Franck realizes how the man actually has no boundaries of exclusivity and so he throws himself into the fray.

Business goes as wildly as usual at the lake until one day at sunset, when everyone else is gone, Franck is trekking up the hill and witnesses something sinister: Michel is swimming in the lake with his usual boy toy and things seem to be playful until all of a sudden Michel drowns the man and then gets out of the water and goes about his business as if nothing happened. When police shows up looking for the missing man, Franck is torn about revealing what he witnessed but in the end he decides not to as he’s clearly intrigued by what lies beneath this stranger and he’s attracted to the potential danger that comes with it. What follows is thin on narrative as the film isn’t heavily focused on plot but surely is rich with suspense, conveyed solely through a wonderful work of both cinematography and sound design that help bring the lake and the woods around it to life as a vivid and menacing character as much as a sensuous and erotic mood-inducing one.

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What makes Stranger By The Lake an outstanding film, albeit one not accessible for the masses, isn’t really the gay cruising setting or the graphic display of sex that comes along with it. What makes the film a unique experience that shakes up your senses from the inside is its peculiar storytelling, relying on a taut and unsettling atmosphere rather than huge twists and turns. Like Franck, we feel attracted to come back to that place every day in spite of peril lurking in the corners but in our lives that’s where we stop or at least that’s where most of us does. Like Alain Guiraudie said: that’s the beauty of cinema, you can go beyond.

Stranger By The Lake is out in UK cinemas.

Francesco Cerniglia, Film Editor