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Stranger by the Lake (2014)An award winner at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, STRANGER BY THE LAKE… More An award winner at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, STRANGER BY THE LAKE is the first film by acclaimed writer/director Alain Guiraudie to receive U.S. distribution, and I can see why. First, a word of caution: This is an extremely sexually explicit film with a somewhat plodding, repetitive structure, and thriller elements lacking in surface-level excitement. Friends of mine who went with me to see it hated every single minute, so take this rave with a grain of salt. Utilizing a cold, formal aesthetic similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Haneke, STRANGER BY THE LAKE is set entirely in and around a gay cruising spot. Although there is no identifiable time period indicated, the lack of cell phones, the vintage porn vibe, and the use of older model vehicles suggest early 90s. Our protagonist, Franck (Pierre de Ladonchamps) is a young, handsome man who spends his summer days cruising, chatting and having sex with the various men around him. Most are naked, like really naked...like ALL THE TIME. Let's just say this is a mostly gentile cast from the looks of it! Franck initiates relationships with two key characters, Henri (Patrick D'Assumšao), an overweight middle-aged man who unhappily haunts the outskirts of the area, and Michel (Christophe Paou), a magnetic Tom Selleck lookalike (pornstache included) who becomes Franck's object of affection/obsession. [CAUTION: MILD BUT SOMEWHAT OBTUSE SPOILERS AHEAD] Once the repetitive, languid rhythms of the film are established, Franck witnesses a murder, which is presented in one stunning single take. It's a truly heartstopping moment which changes your perception of the rest of the film. It's Franck's reaction to this murder which highlights what Guiraudie is truly after. While the screws admittedly tighten around the aftermath of the killing, Guiraudie focuses instead on people who desire ephemeral relationships, on how we're willing to overlook deep, dangerous flaws in a person in order to find a connection. While looking at this through the prism of potentially closeted, marginalized gay members of a subculture, the themes are universal. Sure, the nudity and very explicit sex scenes may keep this from becoming a mainstream hit, and many will be put off by the slow pace and very open-ended, abrupt ending. For me, the stunning last moment forces the audience to ponder the lengths people are willing to go to in order to form a bond with someone. What this film gets right is its clinical, almost anthropological look at the behaviors of a gay cruising spot, a relic from the past for those who have replaced beaches and woods with social apps and online sites. It presents a community who don't seem to care that a murder occurred when there's still sex to be had. Many may find this to be a regressive depiction of gay life, as my friends did, but the truth is, this world did exist, and still does in many places in the world where an openly gay life is impossible. It makes sense that an oppressed culture can't find the means to care for one another, although the character of Henri presents a glimmer of hope in that direction. His sacrifice seems to act as a wake-up call to the disastrous body count in which Franck becomes complicit. The cinematography is quite beautiful, using available light and pushing the boundaries of it to terrifying effect when night falls. Eschewing a score, Guiraudie focuses on the sounds of water, wind, and the heavy breathing of men. There's a seemingly throwaway motif of Franck parking his car every day that turns out to be an important benchmark for the comings and goings of various characters. Every shot, every point of view, every cut has been carefully controlled. Giraudie is a director with thoughtfulness and depth who joins the ranks of the masters with this strange, quiet but mesmerizing film.
35 days ago via Flixster