STRANGER BY THE LAKE (L’inconnu du lac)
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Alain Guiraudie
Screenwriter: Alain Guiraudie
Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumçao, Jérôme Chappatte
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 1/14/14
Opens: January 24, 2014
One can imagine this movie done by another director as broad comedy. Instead of possessing the title “Stranger by the Lake” (“L’inconnu du lac” being the French title translated as “Unknown of the Lake”), the theater lights would exhibit it as “Cruising for a Bruising.” Simply put, Alain Guiraudie’s film, a meditation on homosexual attraction and death, turns on a murder done by one man who had picked up his partner at a French beach known for cruising, and then murdered him for no reason other than his having grown tired of the relationship. Guiraudie, the forty-nine year old director from Villefranche-de-Rouergue, Aveyron, France and who directs from his birthplace, most recently directed “The King of Escape,” about a middle-aged homosexual who sells farm machinery and falls in love with a young woman. His latest entry captured for him a Best Director award at Cannes’ Un certain regard, or “A particular outlook,” which features works that are original and different and which seek international recognition.
“Stranger by the Lake” is indeed “different,” as no sound track accompanies the action, the entire story is minimalist, taking place exclusively on a rocky beach by a lake and its adjoining parking lot, and deliberately avoids any background for us about its characters. One might guess that Guiraudie is commenting on the very nature of one brand of gay sex: that its followers do not wish to know anything about their “conquests,” that at least some appear to become tired of their relationships however brief, and that in one case a fellow dumps the partner of whom he’s tired by literally dumping him—drowning him in the lake.
One side character, the heavy-set Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), is the most interesting, a loner who has allegedly broken up with a girlfriend and who spends his three-weeks’ vacation in the cruising area without wanting sex. But “Stranger” is anchored by Franck (Pierre Deladonchaps), a good-looking young man who for reasons unknown takes a fancy to the tubby Henri as though he’d prefer to chat with him rather than to get down to the business of that beach.
And the business of the beach will remind some in the audience of the 1970s and 1980s in New York where anonymous sex had been carried out in bathhouses without much precaution by gays in the slam-bam-thank-you-sir vein. Franck who has developed an attraction to Michel (Christophe Paou), is apparently so hot for the guy that instead of running in the opposite direction as soon as he witnesses his love-of-the-moment drowning his partner, that he encourages Michel. This affords us in the audience extended soft-porn sex involving everything from cunnilingus to intercourse. (I much prefer what I saw in “Blue is the Warmest Color,” which has character delineation, and of course, “Blue” deals with lesbian attraction rather than the proclivities of men seen here in full frontal nudity.)
Inspecteur Damroder (Jérôme Chappatte) makes frequent trips to the scene of the crime after the victim’s body has surfaced. One might assume that he is the voice of the director, in questioning some of the denizens of the beach, wondering “why you people witness a murder and do nothing about it”). Indeed the folks on these rocks do indeed display a casual air about what they’ve witnessed, though Franck appears to court the killer for the excitement of the bond, and damn the consequences.
Guiraudie’s style may be off-putting to those who generally patronize mainstream cinema and more accessible indies, but even by the standards of the indies “Stranger” is unusual. The atmosphere is noirish (Hitchcockian in that we know the killer from the beginning), the dialogue is held to a minimum, the murder is photographed as a long shot to give us a view of the surroundings. “Stranger” is equipped with an ambiguous ending, not unlike what we’ve seen in the Robert Redford vehicle “All is Gone” and in the Israeli thriller “Big Bad Wolves.” Since Guiraudie had been awarded Best Director during the Cannes festival, we can bet that his personal, original style has much to do with that.
Unrated. 97 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B