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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

NYFF Review: STRANGER BY THE LAKE

Christophe Paou, right, and Pierre Deladonchamps, right, in STRANGER BY THE LAKE
Courtesy of Strand Releasing
STRANGER BY THE LAKE 
2013, 100 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Alain Guiraudie's won the Un Certain Regard Directing Prize for his racy new sexual drama Stranger by the Lake, a seductive film that takes place exclusively at a gay cruising ground in France over the summer.  It tells the story of Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), a frequent at the cruising grounds who falls for Michel (Christophe Paou).  However Franck witnesses Michel drowning a man in the lake late one night and becomes increasingly drawn to him.

Stranger by the Lake is a daring film for many reasons, most noticeably for its use of real sex and casual nudity.  The sex and nudity aren't gratuitous, though.  Guiraudie takes time to allow his audience to acclimate to his film's unique setting and through doing this, he establishes that sex is everywhere and just a normal part of life in the world of the film.  Stranger by the Lake also explores the cruising life.  Characters like Franck go to the cruising grounds for anonymous sex.  Anonymity is everything.  When questioned about who he was with the day of the murder, Franck cannot remember the name of his companion that day.  It is established that some men cruise while in relationships with women, and this anonymity is a form of protection for the men.  As a side note, protection plays a large role in the film, as the decision of whether to or whether not to use protection during sex is discussed, as well as whether or not to protect oneself from evil.

The link between sex and death is explored in a manner not unlike the films of Pedro Almodóvar, Matador in particular.  However, Guiraudie explores this link in a casual manner, while Almodóvar makes a point of it through intense scenes of sexuality.  Michel obviously poses a threat to Franck's life, but Franck keeps returning to Michel time and time again as the film becomes darker and darker.  At first it is the sex that keeps Franck interested, but it quickly turns into what seems like genuine love.  The memorable final scene brings home the link between sex and death in a manner that you won't expect (no spoilers there).

Cruising in Stranger by the Lake is reminiscent of hunters hunting prey.  Each man looks for another in the woods, as if trying to find the right one to take.  Some hunt all day, to ultimately find no one.  Cruising for these men is a way of life, not something completely out of the ordinary or some special treat.  Some spend their entire summers at the cruising grounds looking for the right man or men.  This is these men's lifestyles and while it may not be the lifestyle of the majority of audience members, the casual sexual encounters begin to become the norm after watching the film for a while.

The acting by all is very strong and Claire Mathon's cinematography is dazzling.  The camera moves very little in Stranger by the Lake and when it does, it is used to explore the location.  The colors are bright and the lake shines in the sunset.  Mathon's shot compositions are very appealing and add to the intrigue of the world being portrayed.

Overall, Stranger by the Lake is a gorgeous, thought-provoking film that has kept me thinking since leaving the theater last night.  It will likely only appeal to the more adventurous filmgoer, which is a shame considering it one of the better films to be playing NYFF.

Strand Releasing will be releasing Stranger by the Lake on January 24th, 2014 in select theaters including the Film Society of Lincoln Center. 

4/4

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