L’inconnu du lac (English title: Stranger by the Lake). 2014. Directed & Written by Alain Guiraudie.
Starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, and Patrick d’Assumçao. Les films du losange. Unrated. 97 minutes.
I know a lot men personally who would be uncomfortable watching a movie like Stranger by the Lake. As a straight man myself, I have no problem with queer cinema. Just as I’ve got no issues with homosexuality, transsexuality, anything of any nature similar. I’m supportive of the rights of all human beings to do what they please, so long as it affects no one else. Personal choice is personal choice. That’s also why I don’t shy away from any movies which deal with queer situations, issues, et cetera. For instance, I happen to love Brokeback Mountain while most of my straight male friends would probably make fun of me (nice guys – just not the type who are going to comfortably sit and watch two dudes kiss or make love). I don’t want to particularly see it in real life or in film, as in I don’t find that pleasurable – I don’t mind to see it on film, though, if there’s a purpose. Stranger by the Lake has its own purposes. I think it’s a really exciting movie. If you’re comfortable in your own sexuality, or I guess particularly if you’re gay, you would probably be able to admit it’s a very sexy film, as well. Absolutely a fine dramatic thriller centered around a frequent hotspot for men cruising to find quick lovers, and maybe more – sinister and otherwise.
Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake tells the story of a young man named Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) who spends his summer afternoons hanging around a local swimming spot – a lake where a lot of male bathers, mainly gay men, go to swim and bask in the sun. Nearby, there is a place where promiscuous sexual encounters happen between those who frequent the lakeside attraction. Franck meets a man named Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao) whose wife has recently left him. The young man is not particularly attracted to Henri, but the two form a friendly relationship, and often talk together while sitting and admiring the other men at the lake. Soon, Franck also meets the charming and handsome Michel (Christophe Paou). However, one night Franck secretly witnesses Michel commit a savage act. Yet despite what he knows Franck is intensely attracted to Michel, who he has come to discover is a killer. From here things become very strange, very sexual, and very mysterious.
I think the plot of the film is really a great driving force on its own, but what really makes the movie tick are the performances. It’s all about the chemistry between Pierre Deladonchamps as Franck and Christophe Paou as Michel. They are a pretty good duo. I’m not sure of their real life sexual orientations. Regardless if they are gay or straight, they do a good job acting passionately towards one another. While this is not a pornographic movie, and not even particularly a romantic film either, much of the story relies on the two of them acting off one another. A lot of the film’s tension is built through how we end up feeling about Michel – his interactions with Franck really fuel all the emotions conjured up in us. The two of these guys are really great together. I think Deladonchamps is my favourite. Yet Paou is fairly villainous in a seriously quiet, subdued manner.
Still, I can’t forget to mention Patrick d’Assumçao either honestly. He has a minor role. Though, I do feel there’s something important about him. Not that he comes off as unimportant. I think there’s a certain amount of a polar opposite effect in the character of Henri – while he is just this boring, nice, fragile, hurting man who could probably offer a genuine companionship for Franck, the young man is more interested in a dangerous person like Michel. If you didn’t know what you know about Michel, you would probably understand that Franck would be more intrigued by Michel. On the other hand, knowing what we know it’s that tragic irony visible in the plot that makes Henri a sympathetic character.
This was one of my favourite films of the last year, which was included in the Best Of 2014 list I did recently. It’s nearly flawless. There’s something very exciting and mysterious about the movie, how it flows together, the characters – everything just works, firing on all cylinders. I’ve never seen any of Alain Guiraudie’s other work, but certainly aim to search some out now and watch them. I love a good erotic thriller. As a straight man, I don’t need to watch something about straight people. I hope there are many, many more like me – I know there are because if not these films might not survive to see the light of day, unfortunately. I think this could have been about anybody, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, whatever – this works as a basic concept. Plus, I think these men who acted in the film really pulled it off in a fantastic fashion. There is a lot of tension here, and great chemistry from the nice, tight writing of the script. I’d watch this again any day. Looking forward to eventually picking up a copy on Blu ray. Fantastic film. Highly recommended, but probably only to my cinema lover friends. To those too uptight or not comfortable enough with their own sexuality – get over yourself! You’re missing TONS of great cinema.