Summertime. A cruising spot for men, tucked away on the shores of a lake. Franck falls in love with Michel, an attractive, potent and lethally dangerous man. Franck knows this but wants to live out his passion anyway.
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João Pedro Rodrigues
Franck, a fit gay man, seeks love at a lakeside gay cruising beach. Among the mostly pudgy nude sunbathers, he befriends Henri, a depressed middle-aged bi-sexual who enjoys the quiet but accepts Franck's company. When Michel appears, Franck finally spots a man he'd like to know sexually. Unfortunately, he also spots him drowning his gay lover but opts not to tell anyone in order to consider having a relationship with this handsome yet remorseless killer. Written by
Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) spends the summer frequenting an all-male nude beach where men come to sunbathe and to engage in casual sex in the woods nearby. One quiet evening, he secretly witnesses a man, Michel (Christophe Paou), whom he briefly met earlier in the day, drown another young man, perhaps his lover, in the lake. Despite this knowledge, Franck finds himself so intensely and inexplicably drawn to the killer that he establishes a relationship and quickly begins falling in love with him.
Laced with highly-charged erotic undertones, "Stranger By the Lake" is a low-keyed, multi-leveled thriller whose dark and disturbing themes simmer beneath a deceptively simple surface. The sex is certainly graphic in its depiction - no simulation going on here, folks - but it is germane to the storytelling and integral to the theme.
Written and directed by Alain Guiraudie, this psycho-sexual chiller achieves an uber-creepy tone without resorting to a single cliché associated with the overworked genre. Heck, there isn't even any music to helpfully alert us to the story's moments of greatest intensity. The movie creates suspense through the observation of character rather than through overt action or violence, with the placidity of the setting placed in stark relief against the grimness of the crime.
Except for the fact that it's in color, "Stranger By the Lake" has much of the look and feel of an early Michelangelo Antonioni film, what with its languid pacing, the artful minimalism of its shots, and the obliqueness of its storytelling and characters. In fact, what's most disturbing about the characters is their seemingly utter detachment not only from the society around them but from their own emotions and any semblance of a moral code. They seem to float freely about in a world of their own making, one in which they live only for the absorption of the moment and in which they are cut off completely from any meaningful human connection. In a way, casual sex is merely an external manifestation of the much more serious underlying condition of angst and alienation (a favorite theme of Antonioni's work, in fact) that's come to define their mode of living and, by extension, much of modern society itself. But is it really possible for an individual to remain that detached from everyone and everything, or is that just a pose designed to keep us from having to actively engage in life with all its attended complications and messiness?
Guiraudie raises the question, then leaves it up to the audience to come up with its own answer. For that is the way with "Stranger By the Lake." It disturbs us in so many different ways, while at the same time refusing to spoon-feed us or to play to our expectations as so many movies routinely do. It assumes that we are mature enough to handle both its raw sexuality and its super-dark vision of the world. And, for that alone, any true movie-lover should be immensely grateful.
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