GFF 2014: Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie, 2013)
As the sun sets over the water in Stranger by the Lake, you are reminded how cinema can greatly embody multiple genres. Presenting itself as an erotic story of lust and danger, it simultaneously ventures in to something voyeuristic and uncomfortably mysterious.
During a hot summer, gay men swarm to a secluded lake that they use as a cruising spot. Surrounded by woodland and with the water stretching far across the lake, Franck, a young seemingly impressionable man who’s fresh out of work, spends his summer meeting men with whom he simply talks, and to others bares his sexual being. When he meets Michel, an attractive, golden skinned strong swimmer, he falls desperately in love with him. But when he witnesses him from the forest drowning a former lover in the lake, Franck is forced to choose between his twisting mind and his throbbing heart.
The film never leaves the boundaries of the lake and the forest, enclosing you and capturing you for its entirety. What by day feels like a glorious, sunny beach turns torrid and unsettling as the moon rises, captured beautifully by the film’s great cinematographer, Claire Mathon. The script, whilst simple, is achingly effective. The characters, each valuable and stunningly realised by their respective actors are what carries this sometimes sinister love story. Franck, played by Pierre de Ladonchamps, teeters cautiously on the edge of lust and infatuation, engulfed almost entirely by Michel (Christophe Paou), whose caustic, stark performance makes you realise exactly what Franck is falling for.
Credit is due to Stranger by the Lake’s brilliant director, whose alluring use of symbolism and minimalism has created a story that, while at times sexually gratuitous, has become an exemplary piece of daring French cinema.
It may be uncomfortable territory for many, but for those who can let go of tabooed thoughts for just a short while will be washed over and drowned by Stranger by the Lake.