Stranger by the Lake Review

Posted: January 19, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Stranger_by_the_Lake_posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

We currently live in a time where we seem to know everything about a movie before we actually see it. Between trailers, tv spots, posters, cast and crew interviews, think-piece articles, most and least anticipated lists, IMDB scrolling, reviews, and the general information overflow, it seems we know a film before we actually watch it. That’s why it’s always refreshing when one is able to stumble across something unexpected. Such was the case for me and the critically respected but mostly unseen French film Stranger by the Lake. I knew the film had been shown at Cannes (although I was unaware that Alain Guiraudie won Best Director) and I remember seeing some positive scores for the film on my letterboxd feed. Otherwise, I knew very little about the film, which give it an exciting and mysterious quality.

The film is set during the summer at the edge of a lake and forest where gay men to come and “cruise”. Our protagonist is young man Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), who has only recently started coming to the lake. Almost immediately, Franck notices Michel (Christophe Paou), an attractive man who’s been cruising by the lake for some time now. Franck is slow to get his attention but he eventually does, however only after a dark turn in the story. Meanwhile, Franck strikes up a friendship with Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), an older man whose wife has recently left him.

Stranger by the Lake is a hard film to review as the plot is minimal, and the very style of the film is defined by its peaceful calm. These aren’t inherently bad things though, in fact the film’s relaxed tone is one of the highlights. This lakeside location is something of a heavenly retreat for these men, and Alain Guiraudie does a great job selling it as such. All of the action is confined to this single location and the beautiful scenery shots are accompanied by no music, only the ambient sounds of nature. The very relaxed and natural tone can be a bit odd at first, but is actually pretty engrossing once you get used to it. Kudos as well to Guiraudie for maintaining the tone consistently. Stranger by the Lake definitely dabbles in some more thriller-esque elements and it would have been easy to add in some eerie music and intense editing, but Guiraudie never does. Even in the film’s most violent moments, it remains calm.

Much as I enjoy the film for various technical aspects, I’m not sure I care too much about the actual story. The idea of exploring the culture of a secluded area of escape for homosexuals is pretty interesting, but the characters who populate it are pretty dull. We learn very little about most of them other than that they come to this area to hook up, and that’s just not enough to hang a movie off of. Even the main character seems completely unremarkable. On top of that, the film’s central relationship made little sense to me. Without going into specifics, I have no idea why Franck would enter a relationship with Michel knowing what he does and I had little interest or investment in that relationship because of it. Now, the relationship and conversations between Franck and Henri do fare a little bit better, but even there I don’t feel I got to really know these people. On top of that, the film has the balls to end on what starts as a pretty exciting chase, only for it to abruptly cut off and end in a way that as wholly unsatisfying.

Normally, it would be easy for me to dismiss Stranger by the Lake for some pretty serious problems in narrative and characterization. Guiraudie shows a great sense of directorial control and I think he might very well do great work in the future. The film also has some strong moments and I do think it serves as an interesting commentary on gay subculture. I can’t say I really enjoyed Stranger by the Lake, but there are a lot of elements here to be admired, and that’s worth something too.

C

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