JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Stranger by the Lake (Director/Writer: Alain Guiraudie) - December 30, 2014
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Stranger by the Lake

L'inconnu du lac

4.5 4.5
97 min.

Stranger than truth

Two apparently opposing lines form much of the narrative bedrock in director/writer Alain Guiraudie’s tale of bare desire gone amuck:

            “We can have great sex without eating or sleeping together.”
            “Do you have to fuck someone to sleep next to them?”

The lake in question serves as a gay beach for hungry men who sit naked in the sun (with nary an ounce of sunblock in evidence), swim in the pea soup water and prowl the adjacent woods for instant gratification (the filming of which leaves next to nothing to the imagination from fully engorged members to damp release—it’s a credit to all concerned that the sex acts never cross the line into pornography: their hard-core honesty is extremely satisfying in this era of lewdness of all stripes just a click or two away on the Internet).

Guiraudie skillfully employs a pair of set pieces: the lake’s parking lot revealing how busy it is and eventually who is on hand as well as the walk through the woods to the all-male playground. Making that trek most often is buff and toned Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps is superb whether courageously stripping down and getting it on with a variety of comers, or letting his incredible eyes do the talking as he lies to the authorities, protecting a sudden paramour who has a decidedly evil way of ending an affair). Sexy, mustachioed Michel brings Franck into his woodland bed (yet he is a self-proclaimed independent, having no interest in frolicking with his conquests anywhere but deep in the lake or forest).

Franck, so akin to Philip in Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, knows in his heart that he is making a potentially deadly mistake, but his insatiable lust won’t hear a word of it. Once Michel’s sometime lover, Ramière, is no longer around (for reasons known only to Franck and Michel: the notion of nobody really cares about anyone except themselves is a troubling theme that Guiraudie artfully works into the fabric and it is most certainly not in the exclusive domain of the LGBTQ community), the passion heats up even as the flickering doubts threaten to burst into flame.

Two older men fuel that fire:

One of those is Inspector Damroder (Jérôme Chappatte provides a well-nuanced hands-behind-his-back take on an indefatigable investigator who understands his suspects more than will be healthy for him) used as the dramatic foil to the covey of hedonists.

More importantly, the other is vacationing logger and apparent lake resident (no path for him, he comes and goes by the shoreline), Henri (displaying a marvellous affinity for deft understatement, Patrick d'Assumçao steals all of his scenes), the podgy, smitten-with-Franck-as-a-person beach regular sees the big picture before anyone else, then pays the price for his non-sexually blinded vision.

Yet when all is said, dead and/or done, Guiraudie leaves viewers with a masterstroke of “What next?”, just as surely as Maugham drew his seemingly helpless character inevitably towards his siren call. JWR

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