Winner of the best director prize in the Un Certain Regarde section at Cannes, Alain Guiraudie’s disciplined, eerie "naturalist thriller" follows the comings and goings at a lakeside gay cruising beach as a man falls for a lethally dangerous Adonis.
Stranger by the Lake
Winner of the best director prize in the Un Certain Regarde section at Cannes, Alain Guiraudie's latest takes place over nine days at an isolated lakeside gay cruising beach in southern France. Franck, a handsome guy in a skimpy bathing suit, strikes up a friendship with Henri, a chubby older man who claims no interest in the shenanigans taking place in the surrounding forest; he just prefers to be away from the happy couples on the other side of the lake. Their budding companionship is interrupted when Michel, a moustachioed Adonis straight out of the 1970s, arrives and captures Franck's full attention.
The tone of Stranger by the Lake is at this stage languid, erotic, and often quite funny. Genitals are on view, casually sloshing between beach conversation and an uncensored checklist of hot sex in the bushes. As befits the locale's sense of swaggering camaraderie (and hint of danger), the socially uncouth are excluded from play more than the less-than-attractive.
Guiraudie imposes an impressively tight structure on the characters' interactions: arrival at the parking lot, the beach, the lake, the bushes, departure from the parking lot, repeat. That discipline becomes a cage when Franck witnesses Michel drowning his latest trick in the deep water. Franck still allows himself to be seduced by the gorgeous killer, to the dismay of his friend, and under the watchful eye of a pesky police detective.
While the eerie use of light, wind, and
shadow — and an underlying itch that things
will all go terribly wrong — suggest a vein
of film noir, the film consistently shifts to
a less generic tone. A remarkable interview
in Cinema Scope magazine between
Guiraudie and Portuguese auteur João
Pedro Rodrigues identified the film as a
"naturalist thriller," which is perhaps the
best way to frame Guiraudie's heartbreaking
admixture of sex, death, and impossible