Stranger by the Lake is a smartly crafted gem

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      Directed by Alain Guiraudie. In French with English subtitles. Rating unavailable.

      In the wake of Denis Côté’s Vic + Flo Saw a Bear and Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm, both from Quebec, comes another francophone gay art-house thriller given a remote setting: Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake, from France. Yet where the other two offerings followed urban gay characters in the countryside, this understated, smartly crafted gem about death and desire exposes the social underpinnings of a rural male cruising spot.

      The attractive Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) whiles away his days at a gay lakeside beach where he befriends an overweight, sexually ambiguous loner, Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao). The studly Michel (Christophe Paou) soon catches Franck’s eye—with his body, then heart, following suit.

      The murder of Michel’s lover doesn’t deter Franck’s (or the other men’s) carnal recreational activities. After the body is found, interrogations by an inspector (Jérôme Chappatte) become more of a threat.

      The lake’s quietude is echoed by the silence of the men, who are reluctant to share what they know, lest their identities shatter the unspoken social contracts their ecstasies are contingent upon. This sexual adventurousness, buttressed by various boundaries (emotional distance, anonymity, secrecy), is undermined by the inspector’s attempts to shatter the sound barrier that insulates them from their own truths.

      Despite frank depictions of gay sex and male nudity, what is more seductive is Guiraudie’s use of everyday rhythms as structure: banality sharpens the contrast between the terrible event and the daily rituals of arrivals, departures, and coital configurations. While the follies of lust are nothing new, the strength of Guiraudie’s direction and screenplay elevates this languid suspense above mere fatal attraction. Although Freud’s death-instinct theory was quite contested, this film argues that there is something more to that in the allure of la petite mort.

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