Arts Review, Movies
Alain Guiraudie, director and script
During a hot summer week in France, gay men experience a murder on a cruising beach next to a beautiful lake in Alain Guiraudie’s sensual Stranger by the Lake. It’s easy to see why Guiraudie won the best director prize in the “un certain regard” section of Cannes 2013: the languid pace, spare dialogue and unabashed sexuality are edited and shot to register a wallop with an art audience.
Franck, the main character in Guiraudie’s tale is a cipher. He’s young, handsome and extremely nice to everyone on the beach including Henri, a portly middle-aged mildly bisexual man, who is ignored by the rest of the buff, cool crowd. We learn nothing about Franck’s past life or future dreams; all that’s revealed is that he loves sex and may be a bit romantic.
Franck and his friends love to flirt; apart from swimming, that’s what occupies their time. One day, during a relatively harmless encounter, another hottie, Michel, is yanked angrily away by a jealous lover. The next night, Franck watches as Michel drowns his boyfriend.
Rather like the murderer Meursault in Camus’ L’etranger, Franck’s actions are inexplicable but feel right in the circumstances. Instead of turning Michel into the police, Franck embarks on an extremely sexual relationship with Michel. Henri disapproves while the rest of the beach crowd doesn’t react at all even when the body of Michel’s lover is washed ashore.
That lack of responsiveness rankles Inspector Damroder, who is sent to investigate the case. As the noose slowly begins to descend on Michel, Franck and Henri are forced to react, with dire consequences for all them—including Damroder.
Stranger by the Lake is a dark existential mystery, tied to character, not plot. An appreciation of gay sexual experiences and existential philosophy will increase any viewer’s response to Stranger By the Lake. It’s not for everyone but there’s a lot to be enjoyed in the film.