review stranger by the lake

Opening with scenes of graphic full-frontal male nudity and proceeding towards seemingly unsimulated depictions of sexual acts on occasion, Alan Guiraudie‘s Stranger by the Lake certainly begins as it means to continue. If the initial glimpses of naked men on a makeshift French nude beach act as an opening statement for the film, over the course of the runtime this frank imagery serves to remind that nudity for nudity’s sake does not necessarily constitute good cinema in of itself, in spite of the film’s many other qualities.

Our protagonist, Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) finds himself quite literally flirting with danger when a trip to his local gay hookup place, a secluded beach area next to a lake, sees him meet and take a liking to the moustachioed Michel (Christophe Paou). It all seems cutesy and (relatively) innocent until late one night Franck catches Michel drowning one of his sexual partners, yet in the throes of passion nevertheless still finds himself irrevocably drawn to him. Soon enough, the cops come a-calling, and Franck and Michel’s burgeoning, uneasy romance becomes a whole lot more complicated.

To say one thing about Stranger by the Lake, it is certain that you will have likely never seen anything quite like it. This is surely the most explicit film to flush down the Croisette in some time, and its controversial nature is liable to make it a hot ticket at the festival, at least before audiences become aware of quite how affected the rather self-ingratiating explicitness is. Full-frontal male nudity aside, the various liaisons between the film’s characters are depicted in sub-pornographic style, with shots of ejaculation and seemingly real oral sex adding little to the narrative while appearing to exist solely to shock (though they do cement a sense of place rather aptly).

In fact, the film seems far more preoccupied with layering on the nudity that it, to a point, forgets about the serial killer shtick. After the initial murder scene around the end of act one, it’s almost act three before this thread announces itself fully once again. Indeed, you’ve not seen anything like this, though whether that is a good thing or not will be up to audiences to decide for themselves. The picture is a pleasant enough provocation, though feels unquestionably calculated in its pursuit to cause outrage.

What perhaps surprises most, then, is how funny Stranger by the Lake is; campy gay humor runs rife throughout, from the sheer lasciviousness of the set-up itself to the incredulity of the characters stumbling around the beach in search of some action (most notably raising laughs is a serial masturbator, who nevertheless wears his presence thin through repeated appearances).

Strongest of all the film’s elements is Franck’s friendship with an overweight, sad sack Gerard Depardieu-lookalike named Henri (Patrick D’Assumcao), a lonely married man who begins to fall for the lad though seems unable to commit himself to any homosexual acts. Instead, he sits on the beach, watching the waves, and this time he spends thinking — rather than rutting — makes him one of the few wise to the apparent identity of the murderer.

While act three veers off into more familiar slasher film territory, there’s still a pleasurable effort made to shirk stereotype — or in one hilarious instance, thoroughly mock it — leading to an intense, haunting finale that should go down well with an audience open-minded enough to rise to director Guiraudie’s challenge. At this stage, it becomes easy to forget about the excessive nudity, which is employed almost entirely for its own sake, and focus on the characters — or at least, those who are still alive.

Though set entirely in one location, there’s a firm contrast here between the sunny optimism of the afternoon scenes and the sinister oppressiveness of the night-kissed ones. That’s nothing to be surprised at, given the film’s constant flavor not of a seedy crime thriller but instead a kinky neo-noir. It’s almost Hitchcockian in the most lurid sense of the word. What’s clear above all else is that Stranger by the Lake will exasperate as many as it entertains.

The Upside: Performances are solid across the board, and there’s absolutely nothing out there like it.

The Downside: Totally inaccessible to multiplex audiences — not always a bad thing, mind you — due to the insistently graphic nudity and sex scenes, which feel superfluous, simply to beef-up an already engrossing enough premise.

On the Side: This is Guiraudie’s fourth film to debut at Cannes but only the first in the Un Certain Regard section.

Grade: C


ARTICLE TAGS
Like this article? Join thousands of your fellow movie lovers who subscribe to The Weekly Edition from Film School Rejects. Our best articles, every week, right in your inbox!
  %
%  
Comment Policy: No hate speech allowed. If you must argue, please debate intelligently. Comments containing selected keywords or outbound links will be put into moderation to help prevent spam. Film School Rejects reserves the right to delete comments and ban anyone who doesn't follow the rules. We also reserve the right to modify any curse words in your comments and make you look like an idiot. Thank You!
Some movie websites serve the consumer. Some serve the industry. At Film School Rejects, we serve at the pleasure of the connoisseur. We provide the best reviews, interviews and features to millions of dedicated movie fans who know what they love and love what they know. Because we, like you, simply love the art of the moving picture.
SXSW 2014
Game of Thrones reviews
Got a Tip? Send it here:
editors@filmschoolrejects.com
Publisher:
Neil Miller
Managing Editor:
Scott Beggs
Associate Editors:
Rob Hunter
Kate Erbland
Christopher Campbell
All Rights Reserved © 2006-2014 Reject Media, LLC | Privacy Policy | Design & Development by Face3