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Stranger by the Lake (L’inconnu du Lac)

Thursday 17 April 2014, by Matt Bray

Alain Guiraudie’s erotic gay thriller is located in rural France and takes place over ten summer days. Set on the shores of a vast inviting lake, a small group of men spend the day building up all-over tans in between swimming and cruising around the adjoining forest. We quickly fall into the world of the film and Guiraudie presents with ease the rituals that these gay men enjoy as they escape the confines of heterosexual society. However, we quickly feel that all is not well in ‘Gay Utopia’. Warnings of over-sized lake amphibians, the silent loneliness of dusk falling and the perceived dangers of anonymous outdoor sex, combine to give the lakeside location a palpable eeriness. That Guiraudie’s camera never leaves this setting only intensifies our sense of dread.

So to the characters – Franck, (Pierre Deladonchamps) a chiseled beauty with mournful eyes, befriends out of shape loner Henri, (Patrick d’Assumçao) and develops a gentle, non-sexual relationship with him. Whilst chatting on the lakeside with his newly acquired friend, Franck eyes the object of his desire over on the beach - Michel, (Christophe Paou) who is swarthy, sporty and moustached; an archetypal grade-A hyper-masculine male. However, the course of true sex does not run smoothly. In the afternoon, Franck follows Michel into the forest only to find him with another man. In the evening, a greater obstacle to his emotions occurs when he thinks he witnesses Michel committing a crime.

As voyeurs we share Franck’s shock – what in fact did we see occurring ? Dusk is falling – was there a crime or have our eyes tricked us? For Franck, there is a forceful sexual intrigue to what Michel may have done and soon the two embark on a highly sexed affair. Whether a crime was really committed will later become apparent.
Beautifully composed, clever, sexy and suspense-laden, Stranger by the Lake is a gem in the gay canon. The film’s much talked about ending is lingering and perverse. In a world dulled by rational behaviour, Stranger by the Lake applauds a man who loses himself to passion and champions the liberation found in animalistic sex and wild emotion.

Dir: Alain Guiraudie, 2013

Forum posts

  • I managed to catch this at a festival months ago, very eery. What I liked most about it was the lack of focus on gender politics alone, like so many other filmed boxed in the ’gay genre’ bracket. This was basically a thriller above anything else.

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